Black Press file photo of the annual herring spawn in the Salish Sea.

Black Press file photo of the annual herring spawn in the Salish Sea.

Herring advocate skeptical about precautionary principle in Strait of Georgia

Critic questions DFO methodology in calculating harvest limits

Despite concerns of various groups and individuals about herring extirpation in the Strait of Georgia, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) says the area comprises about 50 per cent of coastwide herring biomass.

Still, it says it prioritizes conservation and takes a precautionary approach to protect the health of future stock.

READ: Concerns resurface as roe herring fishery approaches in Strait of Georgia

Jim Shortreed, a Victoria-based herring enhancement volunteer, is not fully convinced of the precautionary principle. He said DFO electronic surveys indicate the returning biomass is low; however, he claims DFO continues to say the sonars are not calibrated and therefore contain a certain amount of error in every reading.

The only way to know how much herring returns to spawn is after the spawn when eggs are counted.

“That number is considered accurate, except it’s delivered in July, well after the spawn and the harvest, and that leads to errors in which the harvest is too much,” Shortreed said.

Each year, he said there’s a large number of herring stocks that stay inside the Salish Sea, and don’t migrate out to the Pacific Ocean. According to Shortreed, DFO’s Integrated Fisheries Management Plan documents that the food and bait fishery removed all resident herring out of the southern Gulf Islands.

“That leaves Comox as the only spot left which always has a strong returning population,” Shortreed said. “Those herring, a certain number of them are migratory. We (Victoria and southern Gulf Islands) don’t have any migratory fish.”

In 2017, he said DFO started restricting the amount of catch in the southern Gulf Islands. By 2020, it had closed all the southern islands due to lack of fish.

“Now, the trend seems to be going north of Nanaimo,” said Shortreed, who takes this as a definition of “fished out,” or extirpated.

He notes the David Suzuki Foundation, using the same calculations as DFO, found that a four per cent herring harvest rate would be sustainable, as opposed to 10.

Each year, DFO makes decisions about the size and extent of permitted herring fisheries, based on available science, and knowledge and input from First Nations and commercial harvesters.

“The hard science numbers are going down every year,” Shortreed said.

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