Commercial fishers who make their livelihood from herring are looking at low quotas again this year.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO)  is keeping this year’s herring catch quota in the Strait of Georgia at around 20 percent.

That was among the key points from today’s news conference, as the feds unveiled their Pacific herring management plan.

The DFO has finalized the following maximum harvest levels for the 2020-21 season in major stock areas.

The Strait of Georgia’s harvest rate will cap out at 16,330 tonnes.

Meanwhile, the Central Coast at 1,760 tonnes, represents a five percent harvest rate, and the Prince Rupert District will be 910 tonnes, also a five percent harvest rate.

The DFO says herring play a vital role in the ecosystem of coastal British Columbia and are a food source for marine mammals and other fish species. 

It added that harvest rates are applied to the estimated mature spawning biomass, “which ensures that the majority of mature herring, and all juvenile herring, are available to support ecosystem functions.”

Director of resource management Neil Davis said the plan is developed each fall and sets out scientific information, as well as proposed management measures for the upcoming season.

“That includes things like allocations of the available catch between different herring fisheries and different fishing gear types, things like open and closed areas, and other details,” Davis said.

The plan includes commercial fisheries closures in Haida Gwaii and the West Coast of Vancouver Island. First Nations food, social and ceremonial fisheries are permitted in all areas. 

It will include commercial fisheries in the following areas:

Central Coast: for spawn-on-kelp commercial fisheries;

Prince Rupert District: for limited access for spawn-on-kelp commercial fisheries; and

Strait of Georgia: for commercial fisheries for food and bait, roe and special use.

It also contains opportunities for small commercial spawn-on-kelp fisheries in other areas.

Davis said a 30-day public consultation period was held to ensure that DFO’s fishery management decisions “are transparent, developed through the best available science, and informed by First Nations groups, commercial harvesters and input from the public.”

Davis says sustaining Pacific herring stocks is their primary concern.

“The conservation of the stocks is really job one for us, that is our top priority,” he said, “and our ability to make informed decisions about the sustainability of our fishery management decisions is really shaped by the the science work that we do that involved surveys each year in those major stock areas, and the collection of a variety of kinds of biological data about the fish.”

Conservation groups have pushed for a moratorium on the fishery.

Groups including Pacific Wild and Conservancy Hornby Island say that herring in the Strait of Georgia has dwindled by 60 percent in the last four years.

There are several reasons why the groups say a moratorium should be in place.

They include:

  • collapsing herring stocks, 
  • falling demand and lower prices for herring roe on the international markets, and
  • the role herring plays for an array species of marine life and sea birds that rely on them as their main food source, such as chinook salmon and Southern resident orcas.