Thursday, March 8, 2012

Micro adventure - Annual herring spawn

The annual herring spawn begins when the waters turn milky.

Last year I was captivated with the annual herring spawn.  For days the kids and I would drive out of our way searching local beaches for the big event.  At the time I had no idea what I was looking for.  Half the fun was searching for it.  It was my first time witnessing this amazing migration and I learned so much about herring and the event.  It occurs every year in the waters along the Pacific Northwest in early to mid March.  The herring migrate from offshore winter feeding areas to sheltered coastal waters, like the BC coastline, each spring to spawn. The event attracts gulls, eagles, sea lions, seals, and fishermen. I could write a long essay on how the whole event transpires, but will keep it simple for now. The male herring initiates the process by release of milt, (seminal fluid of fish) which has a pheromone that stimulates the female to begin laying eggs. This all takes place near shorelines where kelp and eel grass are plentiful because the eggs require something to stick to. The sticky eggs are fertilized, cling to living plants like eel grass or kelp, and hatch into larvae in about 2-3 weeks. It is the eggs or “roe” that is the desired catch. I was amazed at how easy it was to spot the eggs and was careful not to step on them. 

Herring roe stuck on kelp along the shore.

There are many ways to find and experience the herring spawn.  Look to the waters and if you see many, many gulls and many, many seals and sea lions then time is getting close.  Another clue is fishing boats.  There are three ways to fish for herring (for roe) - by seine net, gillnet and k'aaw (herring spawn on kelp in nets called ponds and then released).  The egg sacs are popped out of the females and exported to over sea markets, and the rest of their bodies along with the males are rendered down to produce food and fertilizers.
When several boats are fishing in the same area, the herring have arrived.  That does not mean the spawn has necessarily started.  For this you need to walk the shores and look for herring milt. The milt turns the water a milky opaque and creamy color which is easily visible.  If you are still unsure whether the spawn has begun, check the kelp and eel grass near the shore and look for eggs.  You will probably see the herring in the water as well.

Who needs a gillnet when you can catch them with your bare hands!

Spring is right around the corner and with it comes migration.  Perhaps you do not live near the Pacific coast to experience the amazing herring spawn but you can experience other migrations taking place near you.  For example, in Canada… how about watching for birds like robins, geese, swans and hummingbirds.  Monarch butterflies have an amazing migration as do elk.  Spend a day enjoying these creatures in their environment.  It is a fun and rewarding micro adventure. 

1 comment:

  1. Jill, that sounds awesome! I'll have to join you guys sometime checking out the herring spawn. Nature is amazing!