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First Nations take DFO to court over herring fisheries

Five member nations under the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council have filed an injunction against the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' (DFO) proposed reopening of commercial herring fisheries around the west coast of Vancouver Island.

"The nations are not convinced that the herring have rebuilt to a level where they should be opened up for commercial fisheries again," says Don Hall, fisheries program manager with the Nuu-chah-nulth Fisheries Department.

"Secondly, the five nation's aboriginal rights to an economic fishery were not addressed when Canada proposed the commercial herring fisheries," says Hall.

While only five of the 14 Nuu-chah-nulth members hold aboriginal rights to catch fish and sell them, all nations support the injunction and are concerned about conservation of the herring in their territories, says Hall.

The west coast of Vancouver Island have been closed for commercial herring fisheries since 2006 when stocks were deemed too low to sustain fisheries.

On Dec. 23, 2013, federal fisheries minister Gail Shea announced that the three areas again are ready for commercial herring fisheries. The Nuu-chah-nulth disagree.

"The assessment that the DFO has provided indicates that there is barely enough fish to start fishing in the first place," says Hall. "There needs to be more rebuilding of the herring stocks before a commercial fishery can open again."

Hall says there are few fish, they're small, and the spawning area is very spread out; all attributes that make it very challenging for commercial fishery to take place.

"This is the reality all the commercial herring fishermen should be aware of before they come over here in 2014," says Hall.

He emphasizes that the nations are not opposed to commercial fishing, saying that they're interested in having an economy based on their resources.

"But you have to start with a healthy resource first," says Hall.

The DFO declined to comment since the dispute is now brought for the courts.

Kristian Secher is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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