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Herring fishermen ask feds for $6 million to compensate losses

Commercial herring roe fishermen are asking the federal government to compensate their losses after a decision to reopen fisheries was capsized by First Nations' opposition.

Fishermen say their losses include license fees and potential catches of upwards 2,000 tonnes of herring on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, where the reopening of fisheries was barred by a federal injunction filed by Nuu-chah-nulth Nation. The First Nation feared commercial fishing could collapse the herring stock.

The industry and fishermen are hoping to get $6 million from the government, said Bob Morreau, board member of the Herring Industry Advisory Board, a group of herring fishermen and processor representatives.

Morreau, a seasoned fisherman himself, said he paid $10,000 in license fees to fish off Vancouver Island. Now he’s short that money with nothing to show for it, and he’s not alone. In total, 50 fishermen crews bought licences for the failed West Coast fisheries.

Morreau said it’s been tough on the fishermen, who have to support their families. They had high hopes when the reopening was announced, he said, only to have it taken away when the areas remained closed. “It’s been a roller-coaster ride.”

Three areas were set to reopen to commercial fishing this year: Haida Gwaii, the central coast, and the west coast of Vancouver Island. But months of battle between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and First Nations resulted in only the central coast remaining open.

While the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation took the legal route with its injunction, the Haida Nation and the fisheries industry reached a mutual agreement to not pursue roe fisheries this season. Since that was a voluntary decision, fishermen are not seeking compensation for Haida Gwaii.

Rob Morley, vice president of production and corporate development with Canadian Fishing Company, said it wasn’t only fishermen who lost out, but also shore workers in the processing plants. He estimates they lost about 15 per cent of planned work this season.

Morreau and Morley met with federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea in mid-March in the aftermath of the injunction to ask for compensation. They haven’t heard anything back since then, they said.

Asked last week to provide comment, DFO was unable to meet today’s deadline. However, Minister Shea’s office told The Tyee earlier in April that it was not considering granting compensation at that point in time.

Kristian Secher is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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