High heaven in French Creek

A short stretch of paradise is plagued by an ungodly stink

Is herring roe to blame for the big stink?

Is herring roe to blame for the big stink?

It’s spring in Oceanside and at this time of year the thoughts of French Creek residents often turn to the question of: what’s that smell?

The odour, though foul, has nothing to do with the sewage treatment plant on Lee Road, say officials with the Regional District of Nanaimo.

Board chair Joe Stanhope said the smell isn’t sewage, it’s rotten eggs.

The spring herring spawn, he said, brings millions of fish to lay their eggs in shallow waters, with the French Creek area being one of the most important spawning areas on the coast.

Each year after the spawn millions of eggs wash up on the beaches in the area, providing food for local sea birds. Later, as the eggs begin to rot, a strong odor of hydrogen sulfide is produced.

Depending on the direction of the winds, the odor can be detected for kilometers. The beach that typically sees the most eggs is next to the French Creek Harbour, close to the French Creek Pollution Control Centre.

“The wind direction in this area is often onshore, which carries the odour towards the Island Highway,” Stanhope said. “I have lived on the beach for 70 years, so am extremely familiar with this yearly occurrence. People sometimes think the treatment plant is the source of the odour, but it is evident, particularly at this time of year, that the smell is the hydrogen sulfide from the decomposing eggs.”

The odour from the herring spawn generally starts to dissipate by the end of May, depending on the number of eggs that are deposited on the beach.

John Finney, the general manager of water and wastewater services with the RDN said the smell isn’t confined to French Creek, but conceded it’s particularly bad there.

“French Creek has a high concentration of the roe,” he said. “Part of it is the nature of the water movement in the area and how it deposits the eggs. It’s not necessarily just a local phenomenon.”

He said the district is bombarded with complaints about the sewage treatment plant smell every May.

“I’m not saying it never generates an odor, because it does, but it’s like clockwork,” he said. “It happens at the same time as the herring spawn every year. People logically and understandably mistake that smell as coming from the sewage treatment plant.”