The Heiltsuk First Nation Stood together in April to protect the herring stocks in their territory by occupying the offices of Fisheries and Oceans Canada until a planned gillnet fishery was canceled.
The Assembly of First Nations commended the Heiltsuk for their commitment to a peaceful and cooperative resolution of issues related to their traditional fishery. “I want to lift up the Heiltsuk First Nation for taking a clear, firm stand for their inherent rights,” said National Chief Perry Bellegarde.
“The Heiltsuk First Nation repeatedly raised legitimate concerns about conserving and preserving this traditional resource that has sustained them for generations. That is their right and, more than that, First Nations see it as our responsibility. The federal government now needs to work with the Heiltsuk First Nation to resolve this issue based on good faith and respect for First Nations rights and traditional knowledge.”
The Heiltsuk First Nation, the Haida, and the Nuu-chah-nulth Nations had all expressed concerns to DFO about the sustainability of the herring stock in their territories. DFO claimed that the roe herring stock was large enough to support a commercial fishery.
The Nuu-chah-nulth lost a bid for an injunction against the fishery this year, and DFO opened their territory to a seine fishery, which came up empty for fishermen. The commercial boats then moved on to the central coast, targeting an area that the Heiltsuk said was a no-go zone, so the Heiltsuk took action.
“First Nations throughout BC today herald Heiltsuk First Nation for their persistence in asserting their inherent Aboriginal rights to manage fisheries in their traditional territories,” said BC Assembly of First Nations spokesperson Chief Maureen Chapman.
“The Heiltsuk have acted based on traditional knowledge of their territories and with the objective of ensuring the fishery and their way of life is protected for future generations. The events and final outcome with the closing of the commercial herring roe fishery highlight the need for DFO to commit to developing collaborative management and decision-making processes and practices with First Nations for science, monitoring and stock management into the future.”