Herring Spawn in Strait of Georgia
The herring spawn in the Strait of Georgia is one of the spectacular natural events during late winter. It's crucial for the survival of some fishermen and wildlife. Fishermen await the opening with hope of catching enough to make their annual income; local and migrating birds, especially the Brant, and sea mammals, await a feeding frenzy; local residents and tourists await the excitement of watching the increased activity of fishing boats and wildlife. The anticipation seemed almost euphoric.
We were enjoying lunch at French Creek Harbor when fishing opened in the surrounding waters. The restaurant was full, but the harbour's boat population seemed depleted. The sea had turned white with herring milt, and the skies were almost white with gulls. As we were enjoying our seafood lunch, a young fellow stopped in to collect his fellow fishermen, "It's time to go!"
Two types of fishing are permitted: seine net and gill net. They catch larger and smaller sizes of fish, respectively. The
Department of Fisheries (DOF) permits specific locations for specific times to ensure management of the entire population.
A boat may be given an hour or a few hours to catch its quota. Based on rumors, this year's average herring size was smaller than usual, so seine net fishing was curtailed early and only gill nets were used. Last year's DOF gill net catch summary is at: http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/consultation/fisheries-
The herring is a keystone species in this area. It is a forage fish and human food, and a source of fertilizer. Its roe is a delicacy in Japan. With all these uses, the herring catch is an important part of the local economy.
The spawn is the beginning of the reproductive cycle of the herring. The male releases milt, or sperm, in such prolific
quantities that the sea turns a milky white. Some of it washes onto the beaches, sometimes looking like foam. Soon after the females release eggs, which attach to various seaweeds. The milt and eggs wash onto the beaches and back into the sea with the tides. These processes fertilize the eggs, after which larvae hatch to begin the herring life cycle.
After having seen the Salmon run last fall, it was fascinating seeing the herring spawn and learning some of the differences. One important difference is the salmon die off after their spawn, but the same herring continues to spawn for many years.
Further, being a forage species, the herring is food for the larger predator fish. A recent research report documented the decline of predator species, and the increase of forage species. People were encouraged to increase consumption of forage species to help restore the balance in the oceans' fisheries. The report was an important contribution to the use of the Commons. For more about the dilemma, Google: "decline of predator fisheries" or "UBC Fisheries Centre" or check out: http://www.cfp-reformwatch.eu/2011/02/new-study-highlights-alarming-decline-of-predator-fish/