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Fisheries minister ignored advice from own scientists

When federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea approved the reopening of commercial herring roe fisheries on First Nations' territories in British Columbia, she ignored the recommendations of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) scientists.

This was revealed in an internal DFO document released yesterday during a court hearing of five Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations' injunction against DFO's proposal to reopen the west coast of Vancouver Island to commercial herring roe fisheries in 2014.

In a memorandum addressed to the minister on Dec. 9 2013, DFO scientists recommend maintaining the closure of the areas around the west coast of Vancouver Island, the central coast and Haida Gwaii for the 2014 fishing season.

Despite the advice, Shea announced on Dec. 23, 2013 that the three areas would be reopened to commercial herring roe fisheries at a harvest rate of 10 per cent in 2014.

"The minister clearly ignored the advice of her own internal experts," said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo during a press conference in front of the Federal Court Building in Vancouver. "There is a pattern of decision making within governments where advice is offered to a minister and then ignored just as in this case."

Atleo remarked that the current legal action is but another example of the federal government overruling concerns of First Nations, which then results in conflicts that have to be settled in courts.

"This is about upholding the Nuu-chah-nulth nations' rights and it is also about a relationship that must change between First Nations and the federal government," he said.

A minister should not overstep the advice of science and he stances of first nations, Atleo said. "That's a pattern that absolutely must end. That's what being sought here in court."

The west coast of Vancouver Island and the central coast have been closed for commercial herring roe fisheries since 2006.

In early February 2014 Don Hall, fisheries program manager with the Nuu-chah-nulth Fisheries Department, told The Tyee that herring populations are still too small and spread out to make commercial herring roe fishing viable.

"I don't understand why the minister is not listening," said Deb Foxcroft, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, during the press conference. "We've asked for numerous meetings with her but she doesn't want to meet with us."

Kristian Secher is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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