Science Means Lower Herring Harvests in the Gulf of Georgia

VANCOUVER – The Herring Conservation and Research Society issued this statement in response to new science from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) showing a decline of one-third in the Strait of Georgia herring biomass.

“HCRS accepts the new stock assessment and its implications for much lower herring harvests in 2020 but believes the stock assessment and its underlying model is very conservative and reflects a minimum estimate of biomass not its likely actual level. We believe therefore that the model and its reference points should be reviewed over the next year to confirm whether its assumptions are correct. Nonetheless, peer reviewed science demonstrates that the historic 20% harvest rate even with the conservative assessments meets accepted conservation standards.

“The reduction in the Gulf of Georgia herring quota to no more than 10,800 tonnes for both the food and bait fishery and the roe fishery will be devastating to fish harvesters and coastal communities. Roe herring in 2017 and 2018 generated about $40-$50 million in export value and keeps fishermen and plants busy for several months when few other fisheries are open. With at least 40% of herring licences held by Indigenous harvesters, fishing families in communities like Alert Bay on Vancouver Island will be especially hard hit as they struggle to make a living.

“HCRS believes that quotas in recent years were set at conservative levels that are well below the harvest rates recommended by eminent international scientists on the Pew Charitable Trust Lenfest Task Force on Forage Fish allowing sufficient fish for ecosystem needs. There is no evidence of any correlation between herring stocks and predator status, including Chinook salmon. Herring stocks, like most forage fish, are highly dynamic and significant increases or decreases are not unusual based mainly on changes in natural mortality factors. At harvest rates well below the Pew recommendations, it is not commercial fisheries that drive stock performance.

“Fisheries management is complex but the wild seafood industry believes that good stock assessment is the foundation of responsible management and sustainable fisheries. HCRS calls on the next government to make sure there is sufficient funding for DFO science and stock assessment, including ecosystem relationships. Herring science needs a long-term commitment.”