*(Click to enlarge beach photos.)
Herring are important. They are a food source for sea lions and salmon, as well as for people.
In February and early March, the herring gather in selected areas along the coast of British Columbia to spawn in shallow waters. They seek out areas with kelp and eel grass beds because this is what the roe will attach to.
For the herring fleet it is important that the fishery take place at the right time. The herring must be showing up in healthy numbers and have grown to an acceptable size and roe maturity. They must be harvested before they spawn, since it is the roe that is so lucrative on the Japanese market. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans collects samples of herring to determine the optimum time for the fishery to begin.
When the fishers get the “go ahead,” seiners (large vessels with heavy nets) encircle a school of fish with a net and pull it together like a purse, hence the name “purse seining.” Smaller boats called gillnetters use finer monofilament nets and gillnet the fish. Each licence holder has a quota that is their allowable catch. Let’s hope the weather happens to co-operate at the critical fishing time.
The herring are brought to processing plants where the female fish are stripped of their eggs for shipping to Japan. Most of the remaining fish is reduced for use in fertilizers and pet foods.
Once the escaped herring have spawned, they return to the deeper ocean, leaving their roe to fortune. Some of these herring eggs stick to kelp and eel grass while great skeins of them wash up on the beach to become food for the shorebirds and eagles.
It is a time of plenty for the diners; the last major feeding at nature’s table. Bleaker times lie ahead for them.