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In 1996 the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed in the Gladstone decision the aboriginal right of the Heiltsuk Nation to commercially harvest and sell herring spawn on kelp. All Heiltsuk have this right, including those yet to be born. In this fishery, fronds of kelp serve as the substrate upon which herring deposit their spawn. Unlike the herring sac roe fishery, which results in 100% mortality, the majority of herring spawning on kelp using the Heiltsuk closed and open pond methods, live to spawn again. This harvesting technique, utilized by the Heiltsuk since time immemorial, combined with the lucrative Japanese market for spawn on kelp has evolved into a modern avenue toward economic stability. This environmentally responsible fishery could provide the means for the Heiltsuk of Bella Bella to sustain themselves and earn a moderate livelihood - critical concerns in this coastal community of approximately 1200, with an unemployment rate which fluctuates seasonally between 70-90%.

Recently, the Heiltsuk Nation was informed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans that the allocation for this year's spawn on kelp fishery has been once again limited at 144,000 lbs, the same as the past three seasons. This represents approximately 5% of the Central Coast's total allowable herring harvest. DFO has taken the position that they have met the requirements of Gladstone. The Heiltsuk disagree, and state that DFO has not met the needs of the Heiltsuk people. Despite three years of negotiations, DFO continues to refuse to seriously consider the Heiltsuk position, and has not budged in its position. The Heiltsuk, in the spirit of compromise, have put forward an incremental approach to allocation which considers the sustainability of the herring stocks, the needs of other commercial fishers within the tribal territory, and the requirements of the Heiltsuk.

The Heiltsuk have served notice on DFO that this imposed limit is an unjustifiable infringement of the aboriginal right to commercially harvest this resource. It is the Heiltsuk position that the Crown, through DFO, has not honoured its duty as set out in Gladstone. The Heiltsuk are actively pursuing alternative options to assert and exercise their right. Over the next few days, meetings will be held with members of the Heiltsuk Nation to strategize and determine further action.

The Heiltsuk are advising DFO and the herring industry that the waters of Heiltsuk traditional territory will be closed pending further consultation with DFO on this critical issue.

For more information, contact Arlene Wilson, Chief, Heiltsuk Tribal Council phone#: (250) 957-2381