Two septuagenarians will be packing tonnes of herring into the hold of their vessel this week, just like they’ve been doing every year for more than three decades.
Wally Piatocka, 79, and Barney Dudoward, 70, will once again be part of the herring roe fishery on the waters off Parksville Qualicum Beach, which opened Wednesday for gilnetters.
When you combine their years of experience, these men have been fishing all kinds of species in the waters around B.C. for more than 100 years.
When the herring opening comes, it can look like chaos from the shore with so many boats crammed into the Strait of Georgia. Dudoward said it used to be worse.
“Boats would be ramming each other,” he said Tuesday during an interview in the galley of the 50-foot Ocean Wonder, tied up in the French Creek Marina. “It was a free-for-all, a gong show.”
Those were the days before quotas. Now, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) decides how many tonnes of herring are to be caught, and then divide that by the number of licences that have been issued, to come up with a per licence quota.
Back before this system, when an ‘A’ licence allowed you to fish virtually any species 12 months a year and Japan had a huge appetite for the these eggs, a tonne of herring was fetching $5,000/tonne. Now it’s more like $400/tonne.
Piatocka and Dudoward don’t hold back in their criticism of the DFO, its policies, regulations and reliance on what they believe to be flawed methods of determining just what’s in the water.
“They (the DFO) have just taken everything away,” said Piatocka, from Courtenay. “And they don’t listen to the oldtimers.”
But doesn’t the DFO use science, the latest technology, to test the waters and make decisions to best protect the stocks?
“That’s bull***t,” said Dudoward, who lives in Bella Bella. “The DFO doesn’t know what’s coming in — they guess. Since the biologists took over they screwed up the system.”
As they get near their end of their fishing careers, the men were asked if they thought fishing was a good path for a young person to pursue.
“I wouldn’t advise anyone to get into fishing,” said Piatocka.
A DFO spokesperson based in Vancouver was offered a chance to respond to the comments of these men, but declined.
The Nanaimo-based DFO resource management co-ordinator for the George Strait, Andrea Goruk, told The NEWS the gillnet opening of the herring fishery happened Wednesday morning and there was fishing activity near Denman Island. She said the seiners started their work Monday morning in upper Baynes Sound.
Gilnetters have a 6,000-tonnes quota this year, spread amongst 1,018 licences, or roughly six tonnes per licence.
Goruk said no one can be certain there will be a spawn out front of Qualicum beach like last year’s spectacle.
“You would think there would be a spawn there, that would be normal, but you never know,” she said.
Goruk also said there’s no exact timeline for the season’s end. The season could last anywhere from a week to a month.
“Some years it’s really fast, others it goes on and on,” she said. “We generally keep it open until they (fishers) get their quota, but it will depend on what the fish are doing.”