DFO allows herring fishery, despite wide protest

DFO allows herring fishery, despite wide protest

Bob Cain photo

DFO allows herring fishery, despite wide protest


In  a move that will certainly the federal government’s own efforts to protect Southern resident Killer Whales in the Salish Sea, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced this week that the March herring fishery would go ahead as planned.

Several groups, including Conservancy Hornby Island, and 42,000 people who signed a petition to stop this year’s herring fishery believe DFO’s action will have negative long-term impacts on chinook salmon stocks. Herring make up 80 percent of chinook salmon’s diet, and chinook comprise roughly 80 percent of Killer Whales’ food source.

Conservancy Hornby Island issued the following statement yesterday, Feb. 4:

Conservancy Hornby Island and the 42,000 and counting people who signed the petition to close down the herring roe fishery in the Strait of Georgia off the west coast of Canada are disappointed with the recent announcement made by DFO regarding the commercial fishery that will happen this March and April.

Conservancy Hornby Island president Grant Scott said, “We were hoping that DFO would listen to the people and seriously restrict this fishery that just doesn’t make sense. The quota set for 2019 is basically the same as last year. The fleet is allowed to take 27,500 tons of herring between the roe, bait and food fisheries.

This represents approximately 200,000,000 herring or the weight equivalent to the largest BC ferry full of cars, trucks and people. While 10 percent of the roe fishery will be consumed directly by people, most of this crucial part of the marine food web will be ground up into fish meal for the fish farm and pet food industries.”

Scott went on to say, “Herring is the cornerstone species for many of the mammals, fish and seabirds who live in or migrate through the Strait of Georgia. Strait of Georgia Orcas and spring salmon are listed by one arm of the federal government as “endangered” while another allows a massive herring fishery when 62% of chinook salmon diet is herring and 80% of Orca diet is chinook salmon. To kill this many
herring in the commercial fishery rather than leaving them to support these other species doesn’t make sense to us.”

DFO says SOG herring are “at or near historic highs” yet there is archaeological evidence and First Nations’ traditional knowledge that historically there was much more herring all around the Strait of Georgia. DFO calculates what it calls “historic high” based on one part of the herring run between Parksville and Comox.

At one time there were huge runs in Vancouver harbour, around the southern gulf islands and all along the Sunshine coast. They are all gone. 4 of the 5 herring spawn areas on the BC coast including Haida Gwaii, Prince Rupert, Central Coast and the west coast of Vancouver Island are shut down because of over fishing Given DFO’s poor track record in sustainably managing herring on our coast it is hard for us to believe the SOG herring around Hornby and Denman won’t eventually go the same way.

Recently we have received a lot of support from the sports fishing and whale watching industries who say that combined they earned approximately $500,000,000 and employed thousands of people full time in 2016, compared to the herring fishery that generated $56,000,00 and fewer than 100 full-time equivalent jobs according to the BC Ministry of Agriculture statistics division that. They say herring are critical for the salmon and whales that are the basis of their businesses and an essential element of “Super Natural BC”, an image we like to sell to the world.

In summary, we think it makes much more sense to leave these fish in the ocean not only for environmental reasons but because it makes good economic sense.

For more information contact: Grant Scott, CHI president, 250-218-2323



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Will US/Canada recovery plans do enough to save orcas?

Will US/Canada recovery plans do enough to save orcas?

A Killer Whale cruising the British Columbia coastline

Will US/Canada recovery plans do enough to save orcas?


Marine biologists can’t say with certainty why one of the endangered southern resident killer whales swam up the Courtenay River this fall, an unusual behavior, but there’s a good chance it was scouting for salmon. The southern resident orcas that inhabit the Salish Sea waters around Vancouver Island are starving.

The population of southern orcas has dwindled to 74, and experts expect two more of the whales to die by summer. Although a new calf was recently born, no newborns have survived since 2015, and 73 have either died or gone missing since 1998.

Saving the orcas will take a complex mixture of conservation actions, according to Les Purce, former president of The Evergreen State College, who co-chaired the recently completed Washington State Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery and Task Force.

The task force identified the three major threats to the southern orcas as primarily a lack of chinook salmon, their primary food source, but also vessel noise and toxic contaminants from stormwater runoff.

“Issues facing orcas are a metaphor for the whole Salish Sea ecosystem and the effect on aquatic and human life,” he told Decafnation by phone. “We must take it seriously and move in that kind of alliance.”

And to be effective, he said, the U.S. and Canada must coordinate their efforts.

U.S. versus Canada

So far, Canada and the U.S. appear to be taking different approaches toward the same goal.

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee has proposed a $1.1 billion orca recovery plan based on the 36 recommendations of the task force. Whether the state legislature, which just reconvened, will approve it all remains to be seen.

Canada’s federal government set aside just $167.4 million spread among recovery measures for three whale species, the southern resident orcas, the St. Lawrence Estuary belugas and the North Atlantic right whales. But Ottawa later added $61.5 million specifically for the killer whales.

Washington’s task force proposed a variety of measures to reduce contaminants in stormwater runoff, such as a ban on products containing polychorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Canada has not addressed stormwater contamination.

But stormwater is a major issue. Salmon absorb toxins– like PCBs, and PDBEs found in flame retardants — and when orcas eat them the toxins build up in their fatty tissues. Once metabolized, they are shared from mother to newborn calves via gestation and lactation.

But both countries say they are aligned on commitments to reduce vessel noise.

Noise travels five times faster in water than in air, and interferes with the whales’ echolocation, which they use to navigate and hunt for prey.

Washington’s Gov. Inslee has proposed a three-year ban on whale watching. But neither Ottawa or the B.C. government has shown an appetite for a similar measure.

The Canadian transportation minister did impose a new rule requiring all vessels to stay at least 200 metres away from killer whales. But conservation groups question if that’s enough to have a significant impact.

Five Canadian conservation groups joined a petition last fall asking Ottawa to ban whale watching or any commercial vessels from pursuing orcas in their summer feeding grounds. They say the 200-metre buffer zone doesn’t mitigate the disturbance to orcas’ ability to locate prey.

And neither country has addressed the impact of increased oil tanker traffic if Ottawa completes the TransMountain pipeline, which would bring a 10-fold increase in traffic and noise.

Washington task force co-chair Purce said a state senator raised the issue of increased tanker traffic, but there was no specific recommendation.

Canada’s whale recovery initiative includes a voluntary requirement for a vessel slowdown in Haro Strait to reduce engine noise. But they are working with BC Ferries on a noise management plan.

Lack of prey

“The southern orcas are starving. There aren’t enough salmon,” Purce said. So increasing the whale’s preferred food stock of chinook salmon is a priority for both countries.

To boost stocks, Canada has cut the chinook salmon fishery by more than 25 percent. And it has created sanctuary areas in locations orcas normally forage for food, closing them to all fishing and other regulations.

The main sanctuary is a 5,000 square kilometre critical habitat zone off the southwest coast of the island that includes the Swiftsure and La Perouse banks. It will likely have a negative economic impact on commercial and recreational fishing and tourism operations in coastal communities like Ucluelet.

A former senior official in the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Brian Riddell, recently told the Vancouver Sun that there’s no question the whales are struggling in terms of diet.

“We have to make a major change. If the decision is that Southern Resident orcas are the priority for recovery, then we’ll have to provide additional food and other actions as well,” he told the Sun.

Both Washington’s task force and Canada’s DFO have identified a complex set of issues affecting salmon populations, including habitat, availability of forage fish for chinook, hydro dams and other fish passage barriers, growth in predators like harbor seals and sea lions, fishing limits and the ability of hatcheries to increase production without creating genetic risks to wild fish.

Despite Canada’s commitment to increasing chinook populations, the federal DFO still plans to open the last remaining herring roe fishery off Denman and Hornby Islands in March. Several groups are fighting to have it closed, including the Conservancy Hornby organization. Read about this topic here.

Neither country has fully implemented its recovery plans.

Northern orcas thriving

There are more than 300 northern resident orcas, or about four times as many as their southern cousins.

While they both feed on chinook salmon, the northern whales have cleaner waters, less vessel noise disruption and less competition for the food. There are also more fish from three major salmon producing rivers, while the southern orcas count on mainly the Fraser River, with a little help from the Columbia River.

“If one system is bad … our northern residents have the opportunity to shift their focus to fish returning to another system,” Lance Barrett-Lenard, a marine biologist, told CBC news.

But northern whales could eventually face the same fate as the southern orcas if chinook stocks continue to decline. And, it’s possible they could even take over the southern group’s territory.

Disclosure: Thomas “Les” Purce is a friend of the author from their overlapping careers in Olympia, Washington.







COMMON NAME: Orca (Killer Whale)
TYPE: Mammals
DIET: Carnivores
SIZE: 23 to 32 ft
WEIGHT: Up to 6 tons


Orcas, or killer whales, are the largest of the dolphins and one of the world’s most powerful predators. They feast on marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, and even whales, employing teeth that can be four inches long. They are known to grab seals right off the ice. They also eat fish, squid, and seabirds.

Though they often frequent cold, coastal waters, orcas can be found from the polar regions to the Equator.

Orcas hunt in deadly pods, family groups of up to 40 individuals. There appear to be both resident and transient pod populations of orcas. These different groups may prey on different animals and use different techniques to catch them. Resident pods tend to prefer fish, while transient pods target marine mammals. All pods use effective, cooperative hunting techniques that some liken to the behavior of wolf packs.
Whales make a wide variety of communicative sounds, and each pod has distinctive noises that its members will recognize even at a distance. They use echolocation to communicate and hunt, making sounds that travel underwater until they encounter objects, then bounce back, revealing their location, size, and shape.

Orcas are protective of their young, and other adolescent females often assist the mother in caring for them. Mothers give birth every three to 10 years, after a 17-month pregnancy.

Orcas are immediately recognizable by their distinctive black-and-white coloring and are the intelligent, trainable stars of many aquarium shows. Orcas have never been extensively hunted by humans.



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