At the Council of Ha’wiih Forum on Fisheries that was held in Tseshaht First Nation Ha-houlthee last fall, the Ha’wiih agreed that only food and ceremonial fisheries would take place for a period of up to four years or until there is agreement between Nuu-chah-nulth Nations and DFO that the WCVI herring populations have recovered. This agreement is based on reports and observations from Nuu-chah-nulth fishers and members on the continued lack of herring and herring spawn in our territories in 2017.

“What we’re hearing from the Nations is that there shouldn’t be any herring fisheries in your areas until populations recover for a period of time,” said Jim Lane, Uu-a-thluk central region biologist, at the October meeting. He added that the herring committee has been working with DFO to determine Nuu-chah-nulth goals and objectives for a herring fishery. “The advice made to DFO at the mid-year review meeting was that the Nations provide them with expected use based on several factors and keeping in mind that it’s always fluctuating,” he said, explaining that the system needs to be flexible according to the actual needs of the Nations.

Known to Nuu-chah-nulth speakers as ?usmit, herring have long been an important food source for Nuu-chah-nulth people. Pacific herring is one of the most significant food fish in the ocean, supporting many marine species such as chinook and coho salmon, Pacific cod, lingcod, halibut, sea lions and seals. Gray whales and crabs thrive on herring roe, as do seabirds like bald eagles, black brant, cormorants, loons, ducks and gulls. In the recent past, Pacific herring comprised the largest commercial fishery in B.C., eclipsing all salmon species combined. Catches peaked in the 1950s and 60s, acceding more than 250,000 tonnes. By the late 1960s, B.C. herring stocks had collapsed and were temporarily closed to commercial fishing. Today, one of the questions that First Nations, researchers, fishers and others are asking is: What does a rebuilt herring population on the WCVI look like according to Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations?

Claire Menendez, a Masters student at SFU, Resource and Environmental Management (REM), has been working with the herring committee to better understand the needs and values of Nuu-chah-nulth Ha-ha-houlthee and to determine the objectives of the WCVI herring fishery. Presenting her Discrete Choice Modelling project at the October Council of Ha’wiih Forum on Fisheries, she explained that this form of modelling will make it easier to compare objectives from different knowledge systems, capturing the values of an entire community.

“It’s possible that this method could help to more clearly define the goals and objectives of Nuu-chah-nulth communities by capturing quantitative values,” she said. Employed in Canada, Europe and Uganda, this survey method asks individuals to choose between different hypothetical situations in order to decide what characteristics of a situation they favour more. “An organization can take these characteristics and choices and figure out what a community or a group as a whole may prefer as the outcome of a management situation,” explained Menendez who’s in the process of collecting data to use in creating the discrete choice survey.

The modelling being done in Nuu-chah-nulth Ha-ha-houlthee is one tool to inform management decisions which, hopefully will lead to a more just solution that works for Nuu-chah-nulth Nations. In a letter dated October 23 to Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc, NTC President Judith Sayers expressed her wish that the Canadian government work together with Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations to safeguard herring.

“In the spirit of reconciliation that your Prime Minister has made a priority for his government, we expect that you will encourage your departmental officials to continue to work closely with Nuu-chah-nulth and NTC fisheries staff to ensure that the renewal of herring management on the Pacific Coast succeeds and is of lasting consequence.”