Ahousaht Ha’wiih shuts down geoduck fishery for duration of herring spawn

Denise Titian, February 27, 2020

Geoducks are harvested from tidal flats during low water levels, including areas near Ahousaht. (iStockphoto.com/cementjungle photo)

Ahousaht, BC — 

Ahousaht Ha’wiih (hereditary chiefs) have directed their Fisheries Manager, Michael Swan, to inform DFO that they have declared their traditional territories closed to commercial geoduck fishing during the annual herring spawn.

This is the second time in three years that Ahousaht Ha’wiih have declared a geoduck fishing closure during the sensitive, but short herring spawn window.

In 2018 they issued a statement to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. “The Ha’wiih, Hereditary Chiefs of Ahousaht, declare that all commercial Pacific geoduck harvesting in Ahousaht territories are to be closed during the herring spawn,” reads their statement dated Feb. 26, 2018.

According to Ahousaht’s Keith Atleo, who addressed a Nuu-chah-nulth Council of Ha’wiih Forum on Fisheries meeting in 2018, geoduck fisherman can be seen working in the waters in front of the reserve harvesting the large species of clam from deep under the sand.

“We previously told DFO that we want geoduck harvesting closed down in Ahousaht territory so that the herring have a place to spawn,” he said. He went on to say that harvesting activities disrupt the eel grass and prevents the herring from spawning there.

Divers use high pressure water hoses to excavate geoducks from the ocean floor.

Herring require calm water to begin spawning. The geoduck closure is a measure to protect herring habitat, ensuring that they have appropriate spawning grounds.

Swan said the elders are concerned about both the herring and the spawn.

“We had small herring come in,” he said, adding that they don’t seem mature enough to reproduce. “Less spawn means fewer herring in the future.”

The idea is to keep the channel in front of the village free of disturbance.

“So leave the front of our community open so that they can come into our inlets,” said Swan.

The Ahousaht fisheries manager stated that the geoduck fishermen honoured the wishes of the Ha’wiih in 2018.

“They packed up and left; not too sure about the political side of things. I didn’t get calls from DFO,” said Swan.

Ha-Shilth-Sa reached out to DFO. A spokesperson indicated they would work on a response.

Ahousaht territory will be closed to commercial geoduck harvesting beginning Monday, March 2 and will continue until after the spawn, which should take place sometime in early March.

“We are doing this for our Chiefs,” said Swan. “We will deliver a letter to the boats and to DFO on Monday.”

The geoduck fishery is already hamstrung by the outbreak of coronavirus from China this winter. Major markets for the clam species are in China and Hong Kong, but disruptions in overseas shipments to these Asian markets due to concerns over the spread of the virus have significantly limited destinations for the normally high-priced seafood.

Nuu-chah-nulth operations have decided to carry over unused quota to the next harvest year.