No More Red Herrings, Please | William Thomas Online | William Thomas

No More Red Herrings, Please

Herring attract humpback whales and orca. -Audun Rikardsen photo


By William Thomas



Once again, clueless, careless bureaucrats in distant, landlocked Ottawa will allow BC fishing-warships to scoop up more than ten-thousand tons of tiny herring despite continuing objections from scientists, First Nations, sport fishers and other Georgia Basin residents – not all of whom speak “human”.



Herring are “the Kobe beef of the forage-fish world,” explains Julia Parrish, a seabird ecologist with the U. of Washington. Whether you happen to be a hard-pressed seabird, seal or salmon, “you have to eat four-times as much of some other fish to get the same energy content.” 

High-nutrient herring is prized by humpbacks, gray whales, sea lions, sharks and increasingly hungry bears. Yet, herring bones unearthed at 171 west coast prehistoric sites show herring's abundance in this region for thousands of years.

No more.

Just as we’ve seen on Canada’s east coast after the DFO's overfished cod crashed in 1999  and here on the west coast, where four of the DFO’s five herring regions have been “managed” to death  when entire fisheries are taken down, they do not come back. 

Call BC’s most contentious fishery the ghosts of herring past.



“Herring that used to live for 10 years now rarely survive more than four,” contributes Craig Welch for National Geo.

Herring are another linchpin in the marine food chain, reminds Phil Levin at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Northwest Fisheries Science Center. "What you see over and over is a pretty dramatic decline – there's less herring, they're smaller, and the older, bigger herring seem to be gone."

What does the Dept. of Fools & Oxymorons (DFO) not get about “gone”?

“We really should be leaving this fish in the water,” advised Ian McAllister, executive director of Pacific Wild, in March 2019. “This is basis for the food supply of the entire Salish Sea, the basis of our coastal economy, and yet we’re turning this wild herring into fish farm pellets and cat food. This fishery should not ever have been allowed.”

Last season, Pacific Wild flew a drone over the gillnet-herring fleet, videotaping what McAllister called a “Wild West” assault on the fish.

“Bear bangers, shot gun blasts, you could hear it from 10 kilometres away,” said this long-time wildlife activist and photographer on video, after I’d spoken with him aboard his independent fisheries protection catamaran in Ford Cove. “It’s so industrial, such an insult to the fish, and no one [from DFO] to enforce it, even witness it.

The department confirmed that “DFO Resource Managers have left the grounds...” because “it probably saves a lot of paperwork.”

Resource Managers?

Herring Spawn- a Smorgasbord for Marine Mammals in the ... smruconsulting.com

Roe Roe Roe your boats.. amruconsulting


For decades, fishers vacuumed hundreds of thousands of tons of herring for fish oil. When dollar returns became ridiculously low, they scooped them for their roe. Now those prices are plummeting, too.

The result?

By 2015, there had not been a fishing season for a decade in three of BC’s four major herring areas. That year, after the minister overruled her own DFO advisers and ordered the fishery open, a court injunction curtailed the season.

"We can't risk them taking any more," says Guujaaw, ex-president of the Council of the Haida Nation. "Herring are central to everything here."

“The seals eat the fish, and the killer whales chase the seals. Humpback whales release bubbles that envelop balls of herring, confusing the fish long enough for the whales to slurp them up. Gray whales vacuum the eggs off the bottom.When seaweed washes onto the beach, bears swipe eggs off the kelp,” Welch writes.

This is a Very Big Deal to Hornby and Denman islanders – and many other wild and human lives. But not to our felonious federal government, recently re-installed after Tarsands Trudeau captured a whopping 34% of a decidedly unpopular vote.

Onboard this crashing space colony, from all accounts on every front, 2020 is looking to be a doozy. Except for the Strait of Georgia, the remaining four of BC’s five former herring fisheries will once again stay closed throughout the roe herring season. The new catch target is 10,021 tons of herring taken from fast-declining local chinook and Orca populations for cheap pet food and fertilizer.

As David Ellis, former head, Marine Fishes (Pacific) and currently on the committee on the Status of Endangered Species in Canada wrote to an apparently myopic Justin Trudeau:








Eliis more calmly went on to note: “The main lobbyist for [Jimmy] Pattison actually worked for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for many years. His name is Mr. Rob Morley. Do Google. He is able to play the DFO like a fiddle.”

Does the provincial public care? DC Reid says his herring fisheries blog “may reach 600,000 page views by the end of 2019.

“Now, everything seems so wildly out of balance,” writes the wonderfully-named Ian Gill in The Tyee. “Perhaps no more so than in the Salish Sewer.”



How do we know the next catch will be viable? The “Monte Carlo Sampling Procedure,” that’s how. Turns out the entire Salish Sea herring fishery is based on Monte Carlo-style statistical roulette that has as much relevance to reaity as any gamed system.

Not to worry, purrs Victoria Postlethwaite, regional DFO officer “in charge” of herring – who may not have gotten her memo declaring: “The Strait of Georgia aggregate stock biomass is currently estimated to be in the top one-third of the biomass… since 1950.”

Which is fascinating, since the same report notes a continuing decline in herring spawn over the past three years. (Emphasis added for blind corporate bureaucrats.)


BC herring fishery opposed by First Nations -theglobeandmail.com

BC herring fishery is opposed by First Nations -Globe and Mail


After enduring “years of excessive quotas, based on overestimated biomass calculated using a post-industrial fishing baseline” – reported Fish Information & Services in October 2019 – the most recently released DFO data reveals herring plummeting from around 129,500 metric tonnes in 2016 to 85,700 tonnes in 2019.

BC’s herring fishery is predicted to continue collapsing: to an estimated 54,242 tonnes in 2020. That’s “a reduction of almost 60% in four years,” FIS fulminates.

According to Postlethwaite, last year’s quota was based on a predicted return of 122,291 tonnes. But – oops! – only 85,700 tonnes returned. Fisheries scooped up 25% of that reduced population, “exceeding the 20% harvest quota once again,” FIS observes. “The four other herring populations in B.C. have already collapsed in recent years due to overfishing.”

This year (2020), “DFO forecasts that not only will fewer fish be returning, but the population will consist of smaller and younger fish with lower reproductive capacity. Herring once spawned throughout the Strait of Georgia and Johnstone Strait, but only one area of spawn remains, located between Qualicum Beach and Comox,’ FIS continues.

“In their management approach, DFO does not address the severely reduced geographic range and historical abundance of herring in the Strait of Georgia”.

Which sounds just like the IPCC when it refuses to calculate self-reinforcing climatic feedbacks in predicting Earth’s near-term capacity to continue supporting human techno-civilizations, and even complex life.

From the epicenter of BC’s last viable herring spawning grounds, Conservancy Hornby Island and the Association for Denman Island Marine Stewards are leading calls to “shut that fishery down!”

At least, for now. 

Better to reassess herring happiness in three years, than to find eagles and their wild kin with nothing to reassess at all.


            Tseshaht Nation hasn’t been able to collect herring roe in their traditional way for at least 15 years -Jens Buttner AFP/Getty 


“If science is so good at predicting abundance, why are 80% of herring sites now closed?” wonders veteran Vancouver Sun columnist, Stephen Hume. “We’ve fished stocks to collapse before, amid repeated assurances that the fisheries science shows harvests to be sustainable.” 

This year, after concluding that the most prudent course would be to cap the herring catch at 10% of the guesstimated population, the DFO has approved a rate of... 20%!

“At some point, you have to wonder how many fisheries scientists can dance on the head of a pin,” writes Ian Gill. “Ottawa thinks the fleet can take 130 million fish out of the water without making a dent in the stock’s 'long-term' ability to reproduce. Locally, confidence in that decision is low.”

So low, in fact, an online petition to suspend the 2020 herring fishery, honour First Nations rights to their traditional culture, and compensate fishers has already attracted more than 72,000 signatures.


Add yours here



Tla’amin leader Clint Williams says he’s not buying DFO’s bafflegab after “their science said they could fish on the inside here and it’s just devastated the fishery here.”

People are wondering, when do we and the creatures we represent get a say commensurate with the commercial fishing, fish farm and national energy interests that have been running the DFO for decades?

“So it is that the National Energy Board can study the threats to resident killer whale populations in the Strait of Georgia, conclude that the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion will endanger the orca population, and go ahead and approve the pipeline anyway,” Ian Gill writes.

“So it is that DFO can approve a commercial fishery on one of the principle sources of food for Chinook salmon, which are in turn one of the principle sources of food for killer whales.

“So they take herring out of the mouths of Chinook out of the mouths of orcas. And then on Friday comes the latest out of the politicians’ mouths and taxpayers’ pockets - $143 million over five years to, you guessed it, protect wild salmon.”

Can denial and P.R. paper-over an ongoing sixth worldwide mass extinction?

At this year’s Salish Monte Carlo, the DFO has placed their bets.

What if they're wrong again?

Herring Spawn | Parksville, Vancouver Island, BC 7 March ... flickr.com

Gulls swiping “our” herring off Parksville, Vancouver Island -flickr

Ian McAllister’s 2019 herring fishery videos from the drone and his boat.

Business man hand pointing up ~ Icons ~ Creative Market Business man hand pointing up ~ Icons ~ Creative Market creativemarket.com

Herring -Raincoast


“RESIST MUCH, OBEY LITTLE”   发件人     William Thomas 2023