The Sierra Club seems to think that the Salish Sea (Georgia Strait) is vibrant with sea life.
I beg to differ. I am 66 years old, born at Comox and raised at Union Bay.
I started commercial fishing as a teen when a license was only a dollar to anyone. Fish and fishing were my passions, but what I see happening (and has happened!) wants to make me cry.
I worked on the ocean, commercially, as a fisherman, Coast Guard Search and Rescue out of Bamfield, sport fishing guide and as an onboard fisheries observer, I saw the reduction of the herring fishery until the moratorium and the halting of it took place.
Up to one in 10 fish caught was a small coho, the same size as the herring that was once in the Gulf all year round.
So out of every 10 tons of herring sent to reduction, one ton were of juvenile salmon also sent to reduction.
Orcas were a daily sight. They thrived on the herring and salmon.
After the moratorium, the herring came back and the runs increased. The spawn was so great that it was hard to get to the inter-tidal with only gum boots … the so called “excess” of spawn broke loose and ended up at the high tide line. It rotted and stunk like a broken sewer line, but with each high tide, a bit of the nutrients went out with the tide.
The kelps and seaweeds flourished. The salmon fry timed their going-to-sea as the herring hatched. They had lots of food and shelter and thrived.
Shorebirds and insect-eating birds thrived, eating the maggots and flies that the “excess” spawn provided.
Comox Bar was a solid wall of kelp — the nutrients flowing back and forth with the tides did that.
Juvenile rockfish, small herring and many other species had shelter from fish-eating ducks and bigger fish.
And then the Department of Fisheries stepped in with their so-called wisdom: we have an “excess” spawn and we can make money here, they figured.
And unfortunately, this vital link in the food chain, both up and down, has been taking a beating ever since.
The Orcas are called “peanut heads” because they are starving. The kelps and sea grasses are gone or diminishing. Birds like swallows and Brant geese are diminishing and on and on.
Watch Japanese Weed — it will only grow to about 15 inches when there is no rotting spawn, but will grow over six feet when there is rotting spawn high on the beach.
Eel grasses grow denser beds for the same reason.
I had a chance to get a roe herring license when they first came out, but for some reason, I didn’t.
We were told by Fisheries that there was “excess” spawn and the herring time their spawning to the first plankton bloom — both false conclusions.
The herring-nutrient-rich milt that turns the sea milky coloured when spawning takes place is what triggers the plankton bloom and part of the yearly rejuvenation, and the rotting spawn is a time release of more nutrients.
The seaweeds that collect at the high tide mark are probably holding this weakened chain of events from collapsing all-together and now that has been threatened by seaweed harvesting.
The herring that are left now live and grow on the outer continental shelf and canyons. They travel hundreds of miles to spawn on the inshore areas.
They were a huge pipeline of nutrients into the Gulf and inlets. That pipeline is getting smaller and smaller, and for what? Greed. I say halt the herring fishery.