It is herring time on the coast of B.C. The herring migrate to certain parts of the coast to lay eggs (spawn) close to shore. It is the ideal time to catch them for their roe.
The seiners didn’t have far to go to set their nets this year. Less than a half hour’s run from town, they put their huge nets in the water and encircled the schools of herring with a huge purse seine net.
The small skiff helps anchor one end of the net while the seiner runs around in a circle, unrolling the huge net into the water. The white floats on the top of the net help us to see where the net is. Their job is to keep the top of the net afloat. The bottom of the net has heavy lead rings tied to it through which a line passes. It is like a drawstring that closes the net so fish can’t escape through the bottom.
In the photo below, the red boat has already closed its net. Seagulls circle, hoping to lunch on unfortunate escapees. The boat next to the red seiner might be a packer, standing by to take the load onto his boat and then to market.
The herring could be scooped out of the net with a huge brailer, like a long-handled fish net, or in some cases, the herring are sucked out of the net and onto the packer or into the hold of the seiner with a kind of (very large) vacuum that slurps up the fish and seawater and pumps it all into the hold of the waiting boat. The seawater is pumped out of the boat leaving only the herring behind in a big strainer.
To unload them, the process is reversed and water is added to the hold to enable the vacuum to suck the herring out of the boat.
The boat on the right side of the photo has just paid out the net in a circle to try for a catch of herring. See the white floats?
The farther boat in the photo below has hauled a catch over to the boat. You can see the seagulls going crazy with the feeding opportunities it provides for them.
Fishing for herring is hard work. In late February and even in March the weather can be raw and brutal, especially on the water.
I took the photos of the seiners from the deck of my house, so they are quite far away. The very next day, I took the photo below, of the same view, but the boats are not visible through the snow clouds. I hope no one was fishing that day.
I like to eat pickled herring, but I’ve learned that the food herring are caught in the winter (maybe November) when they are fattest. In the spring roe fishery, the herring are skinnier and are caught mainly for their roe, highly prized in the Japanese market (at least prized by the older generation). I’ve heard it suggested that the younger Japanese generation prefers McDonalds. Not much of a choice, to my mind.
In case you are wondering what happens to the rest of the herring after they are stripped of their roe … fish fertilizer.