Strategies for assertion of conservation and local management rights: A Haida Gwaii herring story

Under what conditions can an aboriginal fishing community keep a commercial fishery closed because of persistent low stock abundance when the federal government insists on opening it to commercial fishing? This paper explores a decades long effort by the Haida Nation to protect local herring stocks on Haida Gwaii through a precautionary approach to commercial fishing, recently resulting in a Federal Court-granted injunction that prevented the Canadian Minister of Fisheries and Oceans from opening a commercial herring fishery on Haida Gwaii in 2015. The successful effort by the Haida Nation to protect herring stocks ultimately required a combination of strategies involving confrontation, negotiation and litigation that occurred across two management scales (local and coast-wide) and two levels of dispute resolution. Strategies were successful as a result of four key factors: (a) ongoing conservation concerns about probable harm to herring populations, (b) the existence of aboriginal rights that raises standards for federal government consultation and accommodation, (c) an existing negotiated co-management agreement between the Haida and Canada about the area where most herring stocks are located, and (d) strategic interactions among local and coast-wide forums where herring closures were debated.