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B.C. First Nation sues federal government over ban on herring spawn fishery

Fishing boats are docked at a marina in Bella Bella, B.C., on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito Fishing boats are docked at a marina in Bella Bella, B.C., on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
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A British Columbia First Nation says it has launched a civil lawsuit against the federal government over its decision in 2022 to ban one of its commercial fisheries

The Heiltsuk Nation says the Fisheries Department's move to close the commercial harvest of herring spawn-on-kelp in the nation's territory was an infringement of its Aboriginal rights.

In a lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court against the Attorney General of Canada, the nation says the department issued a management plan for Pacific herring in February 2022 for the central coast that closed the commercial fishery, where eggs are removed from kelp after herring have spawned.

The lawsuit says the closure left its members unable to harvest the spawn-on-kelp for commercial purposes, disrupting "an economic lifeline" for the Indigenous community as well as a "cornerstone of Heiltsuk culture for thousands of years."

Heiltsuk Nation Elected Chief Marilyn Slett says in a statement that her community "did not take the decision to commence legal action lightly," but to close the fishery seriously infringed the group's rights.

The statement says the Heiltsuk Nation had been jointly managing the herring fishery within its territory with the Fisheries Department since 2016 by making annual recommendations to the minister, and the "unilateral" decision to not follow those recommendations undermined ongoing reconciliation agreements.

“It was only a few years ago that Heiltsuk resolved a claim against the Government of Canada for past infringements of our rights to fish herring spawn-on-kelp," said Heiltsuk Hereditary Chief Hemas Harvey Humchitt in the same statement.

"So, we are frustrated to have to take this step again.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2024. 

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