The W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership council, representing Tsartlip, Tseycum, and Tsawout Nations, is pleased to co-host a historic herring advocacy event tentatively titled HELIT TŦE SȽOṈ,ET (Let the Herring Live), this November.
The history of W̱SÁNEĆ and herring:
Herring have been under increased pressure from commercial fishing interests since the 1960’s when their numbers reached a critical low. Since then, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and Coastal First Nations, including the W̱SÁNEĆ, have been unable to agree on policies that prioritize the health of the herring population over commercial fishing interests.
Herring, once one of the most abundant fish in the area, are a critical species in the food chain. Comprising over 60% of the chinook salmon diet, herring are also a dietary staple for many other species of salmon and seals, which then become food for the at risk Orca population. Many Coast Salish have traditionally relied on herring for food. For the W̱SÁNEĆ, herring is especially important during the WEXES Moon (March/February) when the herring spawn and W̱SÁNEĆ people lay out cedar branches to gather the roe.
Anthropologist Wayne Suttles wrote:
The traditional W̱SÁNEĆ herring harvest involved the use of a special rake, as with crab and sea urchins. They were taken with a rake [ȽEDEMEN,], which was made by setting sharpened teeth into a fir pole. The teeth were made of hemlock or white fir limbs or possibly of bone; in recent times nails have been used. The shaft was 8 to 12 feet long with one side cut flat for 3 to 5 feet. Into the flattened part the teeth were set about an inch apart. The fisherman used the rake from his canoe when he found himself over a school of herring. Holding the rake as one would a paddle, he drew it quickly through the water, impaling with each stroke several fish, which he then dropped into the bottom of the canoe . . . Cedar branch were sunk by sinkers and floats into an eel-grass bed a few feet above the bottom so that the roe was deposited on them. After the spawning the branches were raised and dried and the roe could be shaken off. (Suttles 1951:126-127)
Despite the herring population’s tenuous comeback, DFO decided to reopen the commercial herring fishing in 2014 throughout the Strait of Georgia. DFO made this decision using baseline herring stock data collected in the 1950s. However, DFO did not consider that by the 1950s commercial fisheries had already significantly reduced herring stocks. To this day, DFO continues to make decisions using data that does not represent the pre-contact abundance of the herring. The W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council, First Nations throughout the Salish Sea, and other partner organizations find DFO’s decisions and their prioritization of the commercial fishery over the health of the herring problematic.