Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) agreed to close all commercial herring fishery on Heiltsuk First Nation territory Wednesday, April 1, following three days of heated negotiations.
Heiltsuk leaders occupied a DFO office near Bella Bella, B.C. on Sunday to dispute the government's decision to open seine herring fisheries on the central coast. Tensions escalated as the department planned to open commercial gillnet fishing sometime this week.
The First Nation contested DFO models that showed herring stocks recovered enough to sustain a 10 per cent catch rate. Heiltsuk maintained government models were flawed, that herring stocks were still in recovery, and that DFO ignored advice of its own scientists and bowed to industry demands.
Negotiations between the DFO and Heiltsuk began in earnest Monday, as DFO regional director Sue Farlinger arrived. As part of those negotiations, DFO agreed to implement better monitoring and training on indigenous knowledge.
Emotions reached a crescendo Tuesday when Farlinger admitted she didn't have unilateral authority to end commercial herring fishery. Chief Marilyn Slett told the DFO: "If you don't have the authority to close Area 7, we do."
Heiltsuk prepared for the possibility of a blockade Wednesday, patrolling contested waters from Kiatsu Bay to Powell Anchorage as a commercial gillnet fleet stood waiting.
But a full-scale blockade wasn't necessary as the DFO agreed to close the herring fishery for the season. The Heiltsuk escorted commercial boats out of their territory late Wednesday afternoon following the decision.
"This was our no-go zone," Chief Slett told a cheering crowd, holding a map of the contested Area 7, "and nobody went there."