Heiltsuk Nation occupies DFO office in face of expected herring fishery

Heiltsuk Nation occupies DFO office in face of expected herring fishery

Heiltsuk Nation occupies DFO office in face of expected herring fishery
Heiltsuk Nation members confront DFO officers at Denny Island coast guard station (Pacific Wild)


Updated 7 PM

Tensions continue to escalate on the waters of the Great Bear Rainforest over a highly controversial herring fishery, as members of the Heiltsuk Nation are now occupying the local DFO office in opposition to a planned gillnet opening.

A group of Heiltsuk youth, elders and chiefs paddled and boated this afternoon from Bella Bella to the coast guard station on nearby Denny Island  – headquarters of DFO’s central coast operations – to deliver an eviction notice reminding local representatives that Area 7 is a no-go zone for a commercial herring fishery this year.

The delegation stripped DFO of a ceremonial paddle which had been given to local officers before in good faith. “You cannot have that,” youth leader Saul Brown told DFO representatives, “because you’re not here in a good way anymore.”

“You’re not conducting yourselves in a way that is sustainable for our future generations, so this is our children and youth saying, ‘We’re going to take that paddle back.'”

Following  the demonstration, a conference call between Tribal Council leaders and DFO Regional Director General Sue Farlinger failed to yield a diplomatic solution to the ongoing conflict.

As of 6 PM, Heiltsuk Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett and Kelly Brown, Director of the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Dept. had joined the occupation of DFO’s offices, where they plan to stay through the night.

DFO inciting physical confrontation: Brown

“DFO has forced us into a collision course with industry,” Chair of the Heiltsuk Economic Development Corporation Frank Brown explained over the phone from the occupied DFO office. 

[quote]If they allow gillnets into Area 7, they’re basically condoning a physical confrontation.[/quote]

Heiltsuk youth leader Saul Brown takes back a ceremonial paddle from DFO officers (Colin Jones/facebook)

Today’s conflict follows a week of high tensions between the First Nation and DFO over the controversial herring fishery. Last Sunday, DFO angered the Heiltsuk by opening a seine fishery amid depleted herring stocks in Area 7 without informing them.

A Thursday press release from the nation vowed to stop a gillnet fishery “by any means necessary” after DFO refused to close the door to a subsequent gillnet fishery during talks with Heiltsuk leaders in Vancouver Wednesday.

The Heiltsuk have declared Area 7 a no-go zone to a commercial herring fishery due to concerns over the health of local stocks and allegations of flawed science by veteran scientists – including retired DFO herring specialist Dr. Ron Tanasichuk, who notes:

[quote]The forecasting methodology that DFO uses now for central coast herring is actually quite flawed…DFO’s forecasts are likely twice as much as they should be.[/quote]

With DFO digging in its heels, a gillnet opening could come within the next day,  in which ase, “We will escalate from occupying the station to being out on the herring grounds,” said Frank Brown.

“We’ve done everything we can. We have to hold strong.”

Update: As of 6:30 PM, DFO is stating that a gillnet opening would likely take place to the north in Kitasu Bay, the territory of the Kitasoo/Xaixais Nation – who have also closed their territory and Area 6 to the fishery and stand in solidarity with their Heiltsuk neighbours.


About 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.

13 thoughts on “Heiltsuk Nation occupies DFO office in face of expected herring fishery

    1. We protested that with RCMP snipers watching over women, children and elders. In my opinion we let them off the hook too easy, would be interesting to see what the appetite is to renew that protest.

      It is still the Heiltsuk position that we oppose any open pen fish farms in our traditional territory, and that has been respected to this point.

  1. Stop Norway from putting fishfarms in your territories and then you’ll be helping all wild fish stocks in the central coast…just sayin

  2. Does Jimmy Pattison control the actions of DFO to the benefit of his CanFisCo?

    The herring fishery should be in the hands of the native people who at least have
    respect and understanding of the fishery.

    For thousands of years herring spawned naturally on kelp and returned half a dozen
    times during their lives.

    This is the course that should be taken with the entire Herring Fishery.

    Pattison controls the herring catch, the dog food made from the males and the sale of the prime row to Japan.

  3. keep up the fight , the rest of B.C is here to back you up ,push the DFO right out of western Canada.

  4. By tomorrow I expect to here that terrorists have infiltrated the Heiltsuk people in a special report by the RCMP to harper. Greed over conservation at any level is wrong,

  5. My thoughts n prayers for the Heiltsuk Nation, we have taken care of our lands and waters since they have been here, and the Government comes in and takes over, and because of how you choose to operate, we are losing our traditional foods, we have no choice. My hands go up to those standing up… And saying no more.

  6. I support the Heiltsuk nation and am hopeful that other British Columbians act as nobly when it comes to facing the countless fronts in this battle againts our environment being waged by our so called leadership.

  7. For shame DFO! Have you learned nothing from the cod fishing industry on the east coast?
    I suspect that even if you have this is in alignment with the Federal government’s view that all things living along with First Nations needs only get in the way of their agenda.
    What rock is it that these government ministry people come from under?
    How can they justify in their own minds that it is okay to lie and deceit, manipulate and falsify to achieve this agenda?
    If this leads to injury or loss of life I hope we will all know, based on these events, where the blame squarely lies.

  8. I Pray for Strength for My Heiltsuk Nation and I Pray that this Dire situation will soon have a Positive out come! And that DFO opens their damn eyes! This is part of our way of life our Survival. You gping to allow the greedy fishermen to wipe thay out too just like our Abalone got wiped out! I should say not!

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