Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns is supporting a moratorium of the Salish Sea Herring Fishery in 2020.

He said an e-petition is being launched on the House of Commons website.

“The local stakeholders have drafted the petition,” Johns said. “We’re certainly excited to see the local activism and people who are stewards of the ocean and care deeply about this issue, are taking steps necessary to ensure their voices are being heard.”

Conservation groups are calling for a suspension of the fishery until an ecosystem-based management plan is in place, fishermen are compensated, and First Nations rights recognized.

Johns, who is the federal NDP’s critic for fisheries and oceans, said our ecosystem is “under a tremendous amount of pressure.”

He added that we’re seeing a “salmon emergency unfold” in coastal waters and that people are very concerned about the inter-dependent species that salmon rely on for their food.

“Certainly this has come to light with the only herring opening on the Pacific Coast from Oregon to Alaska, and that’s the one in the Salish Sea, where the herring fishery was opened and again, the government… their modelling was wrong and they overfished the only herring fishery that was open on the west coast,” he said.

“People are very concerned about this fishery being opened, especially since it is a reduction fishery, primarily, and (so) people in coastal communities, we’re hearing loud and clear that they’d like to see that fishery suspended until there is a whole of ecosystem-based management plan in place, to make sure that we understand how we’re going to move forward and protect that really keystone species.”

Pacific herring is a key part of the food web in the Salish Sea

It’s the basis for the food web that supports the salmon and killer whales and most of the other mammals, sea birds and other creatures.

Eighty percent of the Chinook salmons’ diet is herring, and over 80 percent of the southern resident killer whales’ diet is Chinook.

Conservancy Hornby Island says that, according to DFO estimates, in October 2019, the herring population dwindled from approximately 129,500 metric tonnes in 2016, to 85,700 tonnes in 2019, and is predicted to fall to 54,242 tonnes in 2020. 

The group says this is a reduction of almost 60 percent in four years. 

It’s a reduction fishery, Johns said: “Less than 12 percent of it is used for human consumption. The rest of it is used for cat food, animal feed, fertilizer, (and) fish farms. This is unacceptable at a time when our ecosystem is near collapse.”

Johns said he raised these very concerns yesterday in the House of Commons and met with newly appointed fisheries and oceans minister, Bernadette Jordan.

“I also called on her to make the right decision, to listen to local communities, and to protect the ecosystem… take a precautionary approach when it comes to the herring fishery. I expressed to her that the department got it wrong last year, and that they need to do everything they can to protect these herring stocks which are really the foundation and bedrock of our ecosystem.”

Johns also wants to see a plan to look after the herring fishermen affected by a potential closure.

“These fishers are our neighbours, they are community citizens, they are our family members. We want to make sure that the government fully compensates these fishers should they do the right thing, and that is place a moratorium on the herring fishery.”