Roe Herring Fishery

*(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.

In an aerial view you can see the herring spawn as pale streaks in the water. Altogether these streaks measured about 35 miles along beach areas of Vancouver Island between Comox and Nanaimo during this year’s roe herring season.

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.

Photo courtesy of Pavel Knettig.

Photo courtesy of Pavel Knettig.

Photo courtesy of Pavel Knettig.

Photo courtesy of Pavel Knettig.

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.

Photo courtesy of Pavel Knettig.

Photo courtesy of Pavel Knettig.

Photo courtesy of Pavel Knettig.

It is a time of plenty for the diners; the last major feeding at nature’s table. Bleaker times lie ahead for them.

Photo courtesy of Pavel Knettig.

13 thoughts on “Roe Herring Fishery

  1. Yesterday I got three buckets of roe from the beach. I dug it in my garden. It will fertilize my tomatoes very well, thank you.
    I love the aerial shot where you see the huge cloud of milt in the ocean. Nature is truly awesome.
    Thanks for sharing the pictures, Anneli.

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  2. Very interesting! Beautiful pictures!
    In Europe we use herring to be pickled and in many other ways.-Pet food? Fertilizer??? Well, I guess that’s what we do with fish and other animals. I agree if I can choose halibut, red snapper- or grey cod – I would go for them first.
    Thanks for sharing – I learned a lot again.

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    • The herring fishery for food (like for pickling or smoking) takes place in the winter – some time in December? – but the ones that are fished in the spring for roe, are not much good for eating anymore. They’ve used up their extra reserves for reproduction and are not prime eating fish anymore.

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    • Thank you. One thing I forgot to mention in the post was that the sea lions hang around just off the beach at this time of year. We hear them “barking” from time to time. The sound really carries.

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