More than 100 people gathered at the Qualicum Beach waterfront on Sunday, for a rally in support of the protection of Pacific herring.
Rally organizers want industrial herring fishing suspended and want the herring to spawn and harvest roe in the wild, so they can respawn and feed the ecosystem.
Locky MacLean, who helps run Herring Fest on Hornby Island, arrived to the event with Chief George Quocksister Jr., Hereditary Chief of the Laichkwiltach Nation, by boat.
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“Chief George’s stories about herring and how much it plays an important role in traditional culture along this coast, really highlights how little respect [the Department of Fisheries and Oceans] has toward Indigenous knowledge and experience, and how industry controls a fishery with no regards to the habitat or peoples who for thousands of years co-existed with an abundant herring population,” he said. “We need a moratorium to allow stocks to recover, and in future, this fishery needs to be co-managed with real stakeholders like First Nations, not industry lobbyists.”
The only remaining area of spawn is the background of the demonstration — it lies between Qualicum Beach and Comox. The fish are a primary food source for Chinook salmon. In turn, the food supply for endangered killer whales is under attack as well, since they rely on the Chinook for 80 per cent of their diet.
The event comes after MP Gord Johns voiced his support for the closing of the last herring fishery on Vancouver Island.
“I fully support the call by 53 Vancouver Island municipalities and the Islands Trust in their resolutions for a suspension of the Salish Sea herring fishery in keeping with the importance of applying a precautionary approach until the stocks have had a chance to rebuild. Further, I urge the government to provide meaningful financial compensation to local fishers affected,” said Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns earlier this year.
Several fishers were on hand at the rally and are on the other side of the debate. Rob Morley, chairman of the Herring Industry advisory board, said he sees some numbers around the dwindling fish population as misleading.
“This is a population that goes up and down through natural causes,” he said.
Morley also pointed to the number of jobs the industry creates, and what the loss of the last fishery could mean for communties.
“It’s worth about $40 million to the B.C. economy,” he said “It supports hundreds, if not thousands, of family-based businesses and individuals living in coastal communities.”