There’s been a lot in the news lately around BC’s herring fishery. Some groups are calling for a suspension or moratorium of the fishery in the Georgia Strait, and in pursuit of this are using inflammatory rhetoric pitting fishermen against the environment.

Having worked with fish harvesters for much of our 20+ year history, we are disappointed in the portrayal of these fishermen and how the fishery is being sensationalized in the media. We believe strongly that we need to have inclusive and respectful discussions about the use and management of our resources, and how that affects the wellbeing of people, communities, and ecosystems; this includes discussions with those who harvest this resource for the many who rely on it.

Social media can be a powerful tool to spread information, and misinformation. As a society and as individuals we need to make sure that we are taking into account well-rounded and sound information that considers the range of views and known facts. Fisheries are incredibly complex with many dimensions to how they are managed. We have amazing resources in Canada that if well-managed can provide many benefits including sustainable and meaningful work, and contributions to local cultures and economies.

Fisheries for communities

At Ecotrust Canada, our vision is for resilient fisheries – fisheries and marine resource use that meets the immediate social and economic needs of society, without compromising ecological integrity or the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Adjacent communities, and fish harvesters in those communities, are a critical locus of action and stewardship; they should co-manage, and be the primary benefactors of their fishery resources.

To pit fishermen against the environment and communities ignores the interconnectedness, complexity, and fact that fish harvesters are an integral part of their communities. They are also knowledge holders and stewards of the environment they rely on. In our 2011 Values Study, we mapped the tangible and intangible values that commercial fishing brings to communities, including food security, resource stewardship, intergenerational transfer of knowledge, and maintaining transportation linkages up and down the coast. Fishermen play a critical role in creating wealth for, and maintaining the health of, their communities, and need to be a respected part of developing solutions for the sustainability of marine resources, and the fishery.

Collaboration is key

The decisions over what we harvest, when we harvest, and who gets to harvest are complicated, and in many ways the current system we have for figuring it out isn’t working – for marine ecosystems, harvesters, or communities. We need a new approach to working together, prioritizing the health of our fisheries and all those reliant on them, and to do that we need to continue to do the kinds of collaborative research, analysis, and demonstration of alternative management solutions that have been at the heart of Ecotrust Canada’s approach for over 20 years.  Perhaps even more importantly, we must ensure that everyone’s voice is heard and valued.

~ Chuck Rumsey, CEO, and Tasha Sutcliffe, Senior Advisor on Fisheries

(photos by Chelsey Ellis)