Sunday, 12 April 2015

Herring Roe Fishing and Aboriginal Historical Tonnage

Most sport anglers would like to see the herring roe fishery that DFO authorizes be curtailed so that there is more food for salmon – buy the licences back. I was recently sent a very interesting exchange on the subject between David Ellis and Billy Griffith. The stories they tell are so interesting, instead of homogenizing it down to a news column, I give you their unmodified emails. Of great interest is the aboriginal history, and the existence of herring bones in middens from millennia ago. Who’d thunk they’d last so long?

From David Ellis
To: Hal Michaels [and an extensive cc list]

Subject: Nanaimo herring/DFO data base only back to 1951 so far/ancient Orca populations/private funds to buy out the roe herring fleet/CC: Mr. Glen D. Clark, President, The Jim Pattison Group, Vancouver, BC
 Dead on Hal, B.C. herring DFO catch data go only as far back now as 1951, on somewhat dubious older data as Billy notes (but a great effort and I thank the DFO folks that put that together so greatly, all on the WEB now). Nanaimo was a huge early herring fishery for salted herring before that, but no data as "sales slips' not a requirement then. I believe that the Nanaimo areas was wacked then and has never been allowed to recover (Bill Ricker told me of roe herring openings in Departure Bay, which he watched)

Archeologist Dana Lepofsky and colleagues have moved the Salish Sea 'Herring graph'  date back several 1000 years. I don't know how much published yet. Herring bones stay around quite awhile. Very very exciting work. Now to get the DFO and Jimmy Pattison guys (HIAB) (herring advisory board) to agree to use this new empirical data in the DFO models. It will indeed mean less fishing and cash in his pocket for a few years as herring stock rebuild.

And now we have the UBC and other bird researchers coming up with much historic data, all back-calculable to the ancient herring biomass. There is a whole industry in that rebuilt bird biomass too, as we discussed.

For the period of first contact till 1951 I look to the ethnographic archivists to fill in that gap. There are great archives in UBC, Vancouver, Victoria and Nanaimo but Feds shut down the huge archive at Indian Affairs in Vancouver, whoever decided to do that, let they be judged by future generations.

Then we have the huge need for ethnographic interview as with the late Edward Seymour of Stz'uminus First Nation, he was a cracker jack at putting out branches at the last Salish Sea herring roe fishery.

Of course quantifying all of this will give us a much better idea of the ancient biomasses available for the First Nation roe-on-branch fishery and also the ancient Orca populations and your Puget Chinook, etc. I don't see any great problem in coming up with a new "ancient biomass" number. Just a bit of politics in the way.

Swimming into what I believe was a biomass of at least 100,000 tons of "young of the year" migratory herring then and what I also believe was another 200,000 tons of "resident" herring biomass, they would grow fast as did the coho.

Many older sport fishers have noted the former great abundance of "young of the year" and the "resident" herring in the summer in the Salish Sea to me, and actually these older guys and their inheriting children do have the bank bucks and tax credit needs and also dislike (that’s putting it mildly) of the roe herring fleet, to make a a total private sector buyback of the roe herring fleet entirely possible now. So we need to come up with a buyback $ number, for all of the roe herring licences, that the The Jim Pattison Group, and other licence owners, would accept.

All is coming together very fast, what a great nation we do live in.



CC: Mr. Glen D. Clark, President, The Jim Pattison Group, Vancouver, BC

From: 15-03-15, Hal Michael
To: David Ellis


A question to ask DFO, and maybe you have, is the length of their data base.  If they have decided to cut off years, they need to publicly state why. WDFW regularly and routinely ignores old data. Old being a relative term, in some cases old is 5 or 6 years ago as I was arguing this specific instance a month ago.  They had something like 40-50 years of trap counts that they ignored.  It allowed them to have fishing patterns that they wanted.

When I looked at Ricker curves for some wild chum runs one thing that stood out is that as escapements increased (due to a poor market, Canada not fishing, luck) the calculated MSY escapement and production rose. The converse, which I will look at by sorting the data by escapement, is that if you evaluate only the small run sizes of a population you get a smaller MSY.

So, by finding ways to ignore data on large catches, large runs, allows one to construct a defensible (?) model to justify fishing. 

Honourable Gail Shea
Minister of Fisheries
   Dear Minister Shea,
                                      When we were fishing herring for reduction we used to catch about 250,000 tons a year for many years before we cleaned out the herring. We almost made them extinct. Luckily for all our fish and sea mammals we did not quite kill them all. If we let them build up to old levels before fishing them we could probably harvest 100,000 tons a year forever. But we are too greedy to do this. 

   DFO records I believe show 220,000 tons a year but there was some slippage on the scales. When we brailed the packer Challenger full ( we were still brailing, the pumps were not in use yet ) the Challenger skipper would let us fill him and pound 3 brails on top to compress them a bit but he would not allow even one herring on deck. Then he would take them to be offloaded. If he went to Steveston to BC Packers they would weigh them and report 90 tons. If he went to Prince Rupert the Co-op weighed them as 105 tons. They may have pumped out a bit of water on the way up there too. If there was 15 tons stolen on every boatload that could make a report of 220,000 tons really be about 250,000 tons for the year as most of the herring went to Steveston. 

   Why cannot we allow the herring to build up to historic levels? That would mean more salmon, cod, all other fish, more seals , sea lions, orcas, everything. The orcas mostly eat Spring Salmon as they are smellier so easier to detect and catch. Sport fishermen as well as orcas would thrive with more Springs. 
   Why cannot someone in your department wake up and act on saving the herring?

          Billy Griffith
          Egmont BC
Mr. Billy Griffiths is an old time commercial seine fisherman, still fishing I think, who has always taken the time to provide insider information to me on the history of the B.C. herring. As a former troller fisherman, as I was, he grew to know first hand of the very close Chinook/herring relationship, and comes up with a new insight below ("orcas mostly eat Spring Salmon as they are smellier so easier to detect and catch"). Chinook salmon have very strong and distinctive odour noticed as soon as they are taken from the water.

The fact that the roe fishers this year have had to fish so long and hard to locate and then take just 8,000 tons, when they once could take 72,000 tons from the Salish Sea, shows what little we still have left of this resource, and how important it is to stop, now, and develop a rebuilding plan. For the Orca/Chinook if not for us.

[Graph did not copy]

David Ellis
From DFO website: "largest catch, 72,000 t was taken in the Strait of Georgia in 1956"