The herring spawn is on

Boats, birds, boats, spectators and wildlife converge on the water and beaches of Parksville Qualicum Beach

George Ribeyre and wife Sandy take Ty

The beaches were lined with spectators and photographers as fishing boats took position offshore Sunday to harvest the annual spring bounty of herring.

The annual spawn, which turns the sea a beautiful shade of turquoise and brings out predators of every shape and size — from birds to sea lions —  started Saturday.

Greg Thomas, the co-ordinator for Pacific herring for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said there it looks like a good year for the fishery in the Strait of Georgia.

“We’ve got about 15 miles of spawn in the gulf right now,” he said. “The test fisheries have indicated the fish are of reasonable quality, so there’s no concern there. What we are seeing is a substantial amount of fish, particularly in the Denman and Hornby area. Our soundings have been up to the 100,000 ton range . . . so we anticipate a good spawn this year.”

This isn’t the case in other areas of the coast, however.

“We are reasonably stable at fairly high levls in the Gulf of Georgia, in contrast to the west coast of the Island and the Queen Charlottes and central coast, where we have no fishery. The only other fishery is a small one in Prince Rupert.”

He said it’s unclear why the Strait of Georgia herring are doing so much better than their west coast cousins.

“We are not sure why,” he said. “The survival of these fish in the Strait of Georgia seems relatively good, but as to  why that is, compared to other areas, we don’t know.”

The gillnet fishery, he added, is progressing nicely, with the opening starting Saturday afternoon.

“As of now they are about halfway, with about 3,000 tons caught, mostly off Qualicum Beach and the east side of Denman Island,” Thomas said. “The seiners started Sunday night, fishing off Nanoose Bay, but they didn’t have much success. They caught about 500 tons and they directed their efforts elsewhere.”

The overall quota, he said, is 6,700 tons for the gillnet fleet and 6,300 tons for the seiners.

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