Category Archives: sea lions

Herring Time 2019

Two years ago to the day I did a post about the herring fishery. If you are interested you can find it here. https://wordsfromanneli.com/2017/03/08/herring-time/

At that time a fisherman lost his life working in this dangerous job.

However, the fishery goes on. The pressure is on the fishermen to set their nets and catch what they can in the short time allowed.

As seiners from all along the coast of BC gather to await the herring opening, the wharf at Comox, on Vancouver Island, is congested at this time of year. You can see the seiners in the center of the photo above in the government fish wharf, and the toothpick-like masts of the sailboats on the far right, tucked away in their private marina.

How do these boats not get tangled!?

At one time the herring fishery was lucrative, but see, below, the problem facing the herring fishermen now.

These are a few of the sea lions left after a herring season three years ago. Since then the number of sea lions has exploded to the point where the fishermen lose nets repeatedly from dozens of these giants tearing through them to get at the herring in the seine nets.

Every animal needs to eat, but the fishermen are now finding it difficult to make a living when all they seem to do is feed sea lions and pay for very expensive nets. The staggering number of sea lions that have moved in to take up permanent residence on the coast of Vancouver Island has become an overwhelming problem for the fishermen.

Solutions are hard find, as the remedies are all controversial.

Get in Line

The commercial salmon troller (not to be mistaken for a trawler) is shown here in early June, all tiddled up, ready to leave for the summer fishing season in the Queen Charlotte Islands (now called Haida Gwaii). But now that the season has ended, the boat is a bit tired and ready for some TLC. Like every summer, it has taken a beating, pounding into the waves in bad weather. Rigging, fishing lines, gear,  equipment, and even other boats have rubbed on its hull.

The question friends and acquaintances most often ask after it’s all over, is “How was your season?”

The main thing is to survive the elements, stay safe from the many hazards that can befall a fisherman. Beyond that, it’s a case of trying to be in the right place at the right time and hook some salmon that happen to be swimming by.

Commercial fishermen work hard to supply us with fish to eat. Turns out though, that we humans have to get in line. No, I don’t mean the line in the grocery store. I mean get in line behind the more aggressive predators. Here’s how it comes to be that way.

This year, the Captain tells me, it has been an exercise in frustration. Yes, there were good days, but there were extra obstacles besides the ongoing bad weather. The blue shark below is one example. Often they are quick to take advantage of the salmon’s inability to escape the hook. This one was unlucky and bit the lure himself.

Sometimes the Captain might hook a salmon and before he can get it into the boat, a shark has helped himself to a meal.  Here is what’s left of the fish after the shark has taken a bite. I’ve blurred out the deckhand’s face for the sake of his anonymity.

And then there are the pyrosomes, a new phenomenon in northern waters this year. They are not really a jellyfish although they could easily be mistaken for them. They are really small creatures (zooids)  held together in a colony by a gelatinous substance. If they break apart, they just multiply and grow again. Soon we could be overrun … er .. overswum?? with them.

The deckhand holds the hoochie (a lure meant to simulate a squid), which has the hook hidden inside its rubbery, synthetic tentacles. Some pyrosomes are snagged on the steel cable and slide down to where the monofilament line is attached, while others are snagged on the monofilament line itself and slide down to the flasher or the hoochie beyond it.   A hook that is covered with pyrosomes won’t attract a fish, so the lines have to be cleaned off constantly.And then we have the same old deadly predators, the sea lions, who often follow a boat, lazily waiting for a salmon to be caught so they can snatch it off the line for their own easy meal.

With a lot of stress and frustration, the fisherman does his best to catch enough fish to sell to the buyers who will supply the stores to feed humans. Looks like we have  to get in line behind these more aggressive feeders and take what they leave us.

Fanny Bay Sea Lions

A while back, I posted another sea lion article. It was closer to herring time, early spring. March 4, 2015. In that post, I talked about the kinds of sea lions we have and why they are here. If you would like to have another look at it, click here.

So today I was driving by the same location, but there were fewer sea lions. Only a dozen of them this time. Still, it was a photo op and I couldn’t resist. Here they are lying on the big floating tanks that serve as a breakwater just out from the fishermen’s wharf at Fanny Bay on Vancouver Island.

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The one on the far left has an itch he’s trying to scratch.

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The same fellow is sitting up tall and is about to do an amazing back bend

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Can you do that? Lean back and give your fanny a kiss?

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The old bull with the white face is deep asleep, drooling, and dreaming of salmon he’ll steal right off the hooks of the commercial fishermen. If he only knew that his buddies  up north in Haida Gwaii were already having a smorgasbord orgy, he might get up and start making his way up there. Reports are that the fishing guides are frustrated because their customers can’t land a fish. The sea lions are there to take the spring salmon off the fishing lines as soon as the sporties hook one.

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But maybe ignorance is bliss.

What is contentment, you ask? You’re looking at it!

 

 

Nature’s Orchestra

It’s early morning. I throw a jacket over my housecoat and take our two dogs outside. We have a big yard so there is no need to go far, but I do have to step outside with them or they would just huddle by the door and wait to be let back in the house for breakfast. All winter it has been cold, often with rain pelting down sideways in the wind. I’m always glad to get back in the house to warm up (and to do that before any early walkers see me).

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But the other day, the air was noticeably warmer. The breeze carried a scent of trees and warming earth. The warm, pink rays of the sunrise said good morning to the snow-covered hilltops. Pussywillows on the neighbour’s willow tree seemed to have opened overnight.

The sounds around me were definitely of spring. I tried to identify each one.  No more morning stillness. I heard the calls of Eurasian collared doves, flickers, towhees, chickadees, juncos, nuthatches and two other songbirds I couldn’t identify, and of course the big indicator of spring – the robin. And right after the robin’s call came the scratchy cawing of crows. They are already cruising to find the early nesting sites of the robins so they can raid them. If they don’t get the eggs, they’ll get the chicks. Good old Mother Nature will provide well for the crows, as she does every year.

In the waters of the bay below, sea lions barked to call each other over a feed of herring while the loons filled the quiet gaps with their lonely calls.

It’s like an orchestra here on some spring mornings. The songbirds are the strings,clarinets, and piccolos, while the doves are the oboes, and the loon is the flute. The sea lions are the tubas, and the crows are the brushes, tambourines, and snare drums.

And me? I guess I could be the opera singer, calling my dogs to come in now for breakfast.

 

Competing for Fish

When you’re commercial fishing or even sport fishing, there’s always competition for the catch. These trollers are hoping to catch a few chinook (spring) salmon (King or Tyee to the Americans). The salmon have been given so many names in hopes of confusing those who would like to catch and eat them.

The trollers are anchored for the night and who comes along looking for supper, but a killer whale. Oh, sorry. For those of you who are easily offended, let’s call him a less harmful name – orca. He usually comes with the whole “wolf pack” for a more certain kill.

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Not only do they hang around the trollers to try to catch a salmon but they check out the sporties too.

Photo courtesy of Fern Handy, Haida Gwaii.

If the killer whales don’t get the salmon, there are always a few sea lions around looking for a free lunch. Looks like this one got it. That’s a nice fat spring salmon in its jaws.

Photo courtesy of Fern Handy, Haida Gwaii.

And only moments earlier you thought you’d be having salmon for supper.

Sea Lions

The tiny community of Fanny Bay on Vancouver Island has a very small population (something over 800 people) but I think it would be half as large again if you could count the sea lions that have taken up temporary residence there. At first it was only a stopping place for the Steller sea lions but in recent years their smaller cousins, the California sea lions, have traveled farther up the coast following the food source.

At this time of year when the herring arrive to spawn near the beaches of Vancouver Island, the sea lions have decided they like the sheltered east coast of the island. Later, many of them will move farther north and also onto the west coast of the island open to the Pacific to chase the salmon in the summer, much to the annoyance of the commercial fishermen. The last thing they want to see is a sea lion following their trolling lines, eating every fish they are lucky enough to hook before they can even think about bringing it aboard.??????????

The photo above shows only a small fraction of the clusters of sea lions of both types that are now living here, quite close to people and boats. Some even try to get aboard.

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Let’s go fishing!

I’m not sure I’d want to have my sailboat anchored so close to these guys. I suppose the side of the hull is high enough so they can’t climb aboard, but I wouldn’t be dangling that crab pot on the stern. Sea lions can leap up from the water high enough to make me nervous if I were aboard.

If you click to enlarge some of the photos, you may see that many of the sea lions have battle scars. The stories they could tell.

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Sea lions don’t sound much like lions, but rather more like dogs — huge ferocious dogs with over a thousand pounds of weight pushing the deep vibrations out of their fat throat. “OW! OW! OW! OW!” they bark in their baritone voice. I couldn’t help wondering what they were saying.

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The size difference is not always immediately apparent, but when you see the California sea lion (on the left, below) next to a Steller sea lion (the paler one on the right, below) you can easily believe that there is a difference of more than a thousand pounds between them (about 660 lbs. for the adult male California sea lion and 2200 lbs. for the adult male Steller sea lion).

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They don’t seem to mind lying side by side on the breakwater, although none of them is giving up his spot, real estate being at a premium.

One thing I wondered about, is why they sit with their head thrown back. Several theories occurred to me:

  • they’re just enjoying the sunshine
  • they’re letting their last meal digest (since they swallow their food without much chewing)
  • their head is so heavy that by putting it back over their shoulders, they don’t have to hold up the weight and strain their neck.
  • they’re being snobbish
  • they’re trying to escape the smell

If anyone knows the real reason, I’d love to know.

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The ones who are not lucky enough to get a place on the breakwater simply raft up together nearby. They seem to be relaxed enough, floating on their backs, noses in the air for easier breathing as they doze.

Their main enemies are humans, sharks, and killer whales. Safety in numbers.??????????

Another raft of sea lions. They seem to be everywhere.
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A Steller sea lion in the photo below is quite content to rest his chin on the California’s backside. Cal doesn’t seem to mind. “Oh, Stella, Do that again. Yes, right there. Scratch harder. Feels so-o-o-o good!”

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After a while, the uninterrupted clamour was enough to have me digging frantically in my purse for a couple of Advils. I suppose I could have done what this fellow did – book an island retreat and go for a soothing swim all alone, far from the madding crowd.

Bucket Head

 

Did you ever catch two fish with one hook? Sometimes these freak things happen. This greedy lingcod was not satisfied to eat a salmon but had to bite at the fisherman’s lure for dessert before he even took the time to finish his main meal. If I didn’t have the photo for proof  you might well say that this is just a fish story.img718This is Captain Gary’s first boat, from many years ago. It was old even then. Older than the “captain.” But the things that boat saw were interesting nonetheless.

The opposite scenario to this one, of “two fish for one,” also happened (more than once) but I don’t have a photo of it. A salmon is jerking the fishing line. The deckhand pulls it aboard and in the time between the salmon announcing his presence and when the deckhand pulls him aboard, only the front half of the fish is left. The rest has become breakfast for a sea lion or a shark. The tooth marks on the fish’s half body tell the story.

Take a look at Captain Gary’s cap and tell me if you think fishing is a bloody job. CSI would have fun with that blood spatter.