It could happen here at any moment. It might be happening now. It is happening north of here.
The annual herring roe fishery is upon us, a yearly spectacle that provides jobs for fishermen and herring eggs for Asian markets.
Our first thoughts are of safety. Dozens of boats often converge in a small part of the Georgia Strait out front of Parksville Qualicum Beach in what could be described as controlled chaos. We spoke with Coast Guard crews last week and while they are trained and prepared for any eventuality, they suggested these seiners and gillnetters, their captains and crews, really know what they are doing.
Recent history has shown this fishery, despite the many vessels in such a small area, is not a time when the Coast Guard is busy every day saving lives and helping distressed vessels. It’s remarkable really (touch wood), but a testament to the skill of the captains and their crews.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has said the number of spawning herring in the Strait of Georgia is at the high end of populations since 1975. They set roe herring catch quotas of 7,600 tonnes for purse seines and 10,500 tonnes for gillnets in the Strait of Georgia. That’s about 40 million pounds of fish harvested for their eggs only.
There are some who will tell you this fishery should end. That debate is not what’s in front of mind for the fisherman who make a living in the Pacific and harvest the herring off the shores of Parksville Qualicum Beach. They have watched their costs climbs and prices per pound plummet over the years — it’s not the cash down it may have used to be, that’s for sure.
There are some things for us landlubbers and recreational boaters to keep in mind during this fishery. The arrival of the herring means so much for many species who are not human. The Brant geese, for example, rely on the herring every year, stopping in our neck of the woods to fatten up and store the energy for their migratory flight north. The least we humans can do is keep our dogs off the beach.
Recreational boaters should also keep in mind the men and women on the working boats during this fishery are trying to make a living. It’s a crucial time for them and ultimately their families. Give them the space to do their jobs. And be careful if you are heading to French Creek Seafoods where many tonnes of herring will be off-loaded. There are forklifts and big trucks constantly moving in a tight area there, right in front of the fish shop.
All that stated, we sure look forward to the wildlife spectacle that is the herring spawn. Safety to all and good fishing.
— Editorial by John Harding