Haíłzaqv (Heiltsuk) Nation Asserting Right to Steward Marine Resources

Fronds of q̓áq̓ḷ̓ís, or giant kelp, are hung to gather herring roe for the commercial harvest. Eggs adhere to both sides of the kelp and are traded locally and exported to Japan. Photo by Ian McAllister/Pacific Wild

The work of Haíłzaqv (Heiltsuk) Nation and the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department (HIRMD) are the recent subject of an article by journalist Ian Gill. HIRMD and the stewardship efforts of the Nation are supported in part through Coast Funds Conservation Endowment Fund.

Gill examines the Haíłzaqv Nation’s seasonal herring harvest that took place in spring 2018 and the work of the Nation’s members to secure control and management of the fishery.

“Heiltsuk are wresting back control and management of their fishery and resurrecting ancient ways of harvesting that have supported one of North America’s oldest fishing cultures since time out of mind,” writes Gill in the Hakai Magazine article, published in late August 2018.

Herring are a vital part of Haíłzaqv culture and economic well-being as well as being integral to the marine ecosystem. “Everything revolves around the herring,” says Wígvíɫba-Wákas Harvey Humchitt.

Louisa Housty-Jones pulls up her lines that were set to intercept herring eggs with hemlock branches and strands of kelp. Photo by Ian Gill

“The annual herring roe harvest constitutes a movable feast, which keeps everyone guessing when the herring will arrive and in what numbers. Preparations have been underway for weeks: boats bailed; engines tuned and tested; ropes, buoys, and tarps rounded up; licenses purchased and crews signed on; kelp and hemlock boughs harvested and transported to the herring grounds; lots of jostling for prime shoreline sites to set lines; and constant scans of the early reports from test boats and spotter planes searching for the first signs of herring,” writes Gill. “The excitement is palpable as winter storms give way to herring weather—a time when, according to Heiltsuk lore, the moon tips over because it is so full of herring. Their arrival in such vast numbers is so momentous, it marks what the Heiltsuk consider to be the start of their new year.”

The article descries how the Haíłzaqv fought to regain control of the herring fishery, an effort which culminated in the occupation of a Fisheries and Oceans Canada office in on Denny Island, in the Nation’s territory. By regaining management of the herring fishery in Haíłzaqv territory, the Nation is taking important strides toward decolonization and will support their efforts to construct “a new management paradigm for other marine species.”

Read the full article, Of Roe, Rights, and Reconciliation at Hakai Magazine.