Tseshaht First Nation fight herring fishery off Barkley Sound

The Tseshaht First Nation in Port Alberni will take to the waters of Barkley Sound off the west coast of Vancouver Island today to protest the opening of the commercial roe herring fishery.

“I’m told there are at least five seine boats in Barkley Sound getting ready to fish,” said Chief Hugh Braker Saturday. “That’s traditional territory. If we have to get in front of the commercial boats that’s what we’ll do.”

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Braker said boats from neighbouring First Nations Ahousaht and Hesquiaht will also join the protest. Several commercial and sport fishers have also agreed to honour the First Nations request to not fish in the area this year.

Braker said it is just the latest attempt to bring attention to overfishing and the loss of herring in the area. The Tseshaht, along with several other bands along the coast, use herring fish and roe for food. Braker said the stocks are also important for whales and seals to feed.

“I want to see stocks back to the way they were,” said Braker, noting they have not had herring roe in their territory for 15 to 20 years. They have a full-time biologist monitoring local stocks and hope a change in fisheries policy could see the fish return.

“We sent the minister a letter in January to meet with us and hear our concerns. We didn’t even get a response,” he said, referring to federal fisheries minister Gail Shea. “We can’t afford to take the government to court, so we’re doing what we can.”

On March 3, the five Island First Nations that make up the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council lost a bid in federal court for an injunction to stop the commercial roe herring fishery in the area.

They argued the fishery was closed in the past because the stocks were too low to support it and are still too low. The federal court judge denied the injunction.

However, on March 5, the Haida First Nation in Haida Gwaii said they won their bid for a federal court injunction on the commercial herring fishery opening this year.

A year ago, the Haida joined two other First Nations to oppose a plan to open a commercial herring fishery that had been closed on Vancouver Island since 2006.

Last March, a Federal Court judge granted an injunction stopping the opening, saying the fisheries minister went against the advice of scientists in her own department.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

spetrescu@timescolonist.com

— with a file from The Canadian Press

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