Pacific herring fisheries in the Strait of Georgia are having a difficult time filling quotas because of overfishing, according to Conservancy Hornby Island.
The organization says the Strait of Georgia herring stock is the last remaining of five major B.C. herring stocks on Canada’s west coast. The goal of the fisheries is to extract the mature eggs to be sold mainly to Japan as a delicacy.
Conservancy Hornby Island, along with many First Nations, environmental organizations and the public had been calling for a moratorium over the last five years. Quotas were reduced by fisheries minister Joyce Murray in 2021. However, they say overfishing means the fishery hasn’t been able to catch half of that quota, around 7,850 tons.
The low numbers of fish are a worrying sign for the organization, which says it has not seen anything like it.
“Normally, Hornby and Denman Islands are the epicentre of the last remaining herring spawn. This year, it’s just been a catastrophe,” said Grant Scott, conservancy chair and retired commercial fisher. “What I do know for sure is that I haven’t seen this limited and short duration of spawn in my 20 years of looking out over Lambert Channel. It’s a sad story.”
The organization says a cease to fishing in the area is required, as the stocks may not recover if fishing continues.
The comments are echoed by Pacific Wild, which says the fishery has not seen any new catch in over two weeks.
“To our knowledge, this is a historic and concerning event for industrial herring fishing in the Strait of Georgia,” said Emmie Page, marine campaigner for Pacific Wild. “The fishing fleet has only filled half of its reduced quota and has been out looking for opportunities to fish for more than a week with no success. In recent years, the quotas set have been nearly triple that of 2022, with fishing fully complete in a matter of days.”
The organization is asking for a stop to all herring fishing and is encouraging consumers to not purchase products with herring in them.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans says the decision to lower the herring quotas was made with multiple species of fish in mind including the wild Pacific Salmon.
Press secretary Claire Teichman said the changes were made to benefit the entire ecosystem.
“Herring are vital to the health of our ecosystem, and the stocks are in a fragile state,” said Teichman. “That is why, in December 2021, Minister Murray announced a more cautious approach to Pacific herring management, which saw most commercial fisheries for Pacific herring closed, with the Strait of Georgia cutting their total allowable catch by half.”
She added the decisions were made to make fishing opportunities more sustainable while increasing stock abundance.