An unprecedented court injunction has barred the Department of Fisheries and Oceans from opening a commercial fishery off Vancouver Island after a judge concluded DFO was “fudging the numbers” and that the federal minister declared it open against her own bureaucrats’ advice.
The Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, whose herring-roe fishery has been closed since 2006, went to court last month seeking the injunction.
The ruling has prompted the Haida First Nation to threaten similar court action. And the central coast First Nations say they’ll do whatever it takes to protect their fisheries. The First Nations say the fisheries should not be opened because they have not recovered enough to allow harvesting safely.
In the Nuu-chah-nulth case, court documents showed that DFO experts agreed that all three areas should remain closed, but federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea chose to open the fisheries anyway.
“I’ve never seen a case like this succeed,” said Matthew Kirchner, one of the lawyers representing the Nuu-chah-nulth. “I’m not aware of any case where there’s been an injunction to stop the DFO from opening a fishery. This may be the first.”
In the Nuu-chah-nulth ruling released Feb. 28, Judge Leonard Mandamin prohibited the DFO from opening commercial herring-roe fisheries on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
“It is not science-based,” Judge Mandamin wrote.
In a DFO memo to the minister from December, 2013 and filed with the court, Ms. Shea is told: “The management approach taken for 2013/2014 requires caution and consideration of the risks. ” The memo continues: “It is recommended that they [the herring-roe fisheries] remain closed in 2014.”
A spokesman for Ms. Shea said in an e-mail the department is reviewing the decision and “will be considering next steps.”