Common Sense Canadian

Heiltsuk celebrate as herring gillnet boats leave central coast empty – validating concerns over health of stocks

PostedApril 1, 2015 by in BC

Video by Diana Chan

“We did it!” declared Heiltsuk Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett to a jubilant crowd at the fisheries office near Bella Bella this afternoon, as the herring gillnet fleet departed the central coast empty.

“This was our no-go zone,” said Slett, holding up a map of Area 7 in Heiltsuk territory, “and nobody went there.”

The announcement marked the end of an intense standoff between the nation and DFO over a disputed herring fishery amid depleted central coast stocks. Slett and Heiltsuk resource stewardship director Kelly Brown – along with 50 or so community members – have been occupying DFO’s office since Sunday afternoon, following a stealth seine boat opening 10 days ago and plans to open a subsequent gillnet fishery.

The departure of the gillnet fleet over a lack of available fish – despite the greenlight to fish from DFO – validated Heiltsuk and independent scientists’ concerns over the health of local herring stocks. Even as the boats motored southward, DFO maintained its refusal to close Area 7 formally to the fishery.

The gillnetters had a recent opportunity to fish in nearby Area 6, outside of Kitasu Bay, but were stymied by a lack of abundance. All of Area 8, to the south, and the vast majority of Areas 6 and 7 were on the table, according to DFO, for a fishery – with only a few select traditional Heiltsuk and Kitasoo/Xaixais food fishing spots reserved – yet the only boats to pull herring out of the water this year were the seiners, who made off with approximately 680 tonnes.

Despite continued disagreement over Area 7, the Heiltsuk and DFO did secure several landmark agreements over improved stock assessments and mandatory cultural training for local DFO officers.


About the Author

Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.


    John's Aghast

    Maybe the Heiltsuk should continue to occupy the Fisheries Office? Looks as if they are more responsible than the current administration.

      Slawomir Kochanek

      Yes, they (The Heiltsuk Nation) are more responsible than any Con’s government administration will ever be. Just leave it in the Heiltsuk hands and there will be plenty of herring for the future generations. They (The Heiltsuk Nation) demonstrated over the centuries that they can be responsible stewards of the ocean and the land they live on. I hope, DFO, BC Government, Jim Pattison and some other Big Corp’s sharks have learned a thing or two from this encounter.


    Wow the Seiners left even though DFO still “officially” left the area open for fishing.

    How low are these herring catches compared to other years?

      Slawomir Kochanek

      Feel free to go there and count them (the herring stocks I mean).
      Let me know what numbers you came up with…
      Are they anywhere close to Harper’s DFO servants ?

    Cheena Graham

    Fabulous news!! Congratulations!

      Slawomir Kochanek

      You must be reading my mail Cheena.
      It is great news. A great news for herring if nothing else (Lol…)


    I am glad industry listen to the reasonable claims of the experience that FN has on the SOK collection.

    I am sad that DFO has become such a caricature of itself that even the fishing industry is beginning to dismiss them.

    Don F.

    Yes great news and well earned. However we can’t forget the direction Ms. Farlinger got from ottawa at the crucial moments. The Heiltsuk are to be commended for their commitment and strength and conviction. It is obvious who has the wisdom and knowledge in these matters now.
    Let’s hope something was learned


    However, the Royal Proclamation explicitly states that Aboriginal title has existed and continues to exist, and that all land would be considered Aboriginal land until ceded by treaty

      Slawomir Kochanek

      Well…, why don’t you tell this to Mr. Harper ?
      It doesn’t seem he learned this simple truth in his, tax payers founded, so called, higher education schools.


      Yes indeed the 1763 document is a very important one.

      Delgamuukw v British Columbia section 109 (1997)
      Section 109 is the section that says the Crown’s CONSTITUTIONAL “Interest” is subject to the Aboriginal CONSTITUTIONAL “Interest” so long as the Aboriginal “Interest” has not been sold to the Crown by a valid treaty. It confirms that Aboriginal sovereignty, i.e., exclusive jurisdiction and sole possession, is the supreme law of the land pending treaty and, correspondingly, establishes the utter irrelevance of Crown Parliamentary legislation and Crown court recent inventions based upon the “common law”.
      The interesting part of this language for me is the words” subject to” which I take to mean a step below the Aboriginal interest…

      The second interesting part is the “recent inventions” which I take to being reference to the notwithstanding clause.

      “……..establishes the utter irrelevance of Crown Parliamentary legislation and Crown court recent inventions based upon the “common law”. “

      I see the court as stating the Crown can swing in the wind until such time as the Crown decides to actually step up and deal with formal treaties.


    Great to hear some good news! Thanks for the coverage Damien!

      Slawomir Kochanek

      There must be a reason why your name is *STAR*.
      Heiltsuk people need someone or something to shine the bright light of hope over *their* land and waters. Why won’t you be the one to do it for them ?

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