The commercial herring roe fishery is a significant, fast paced event that has occurred off the coast of central Vancouver Island each spring for more than 40 years.
“The Pacific coast herring are considered high quality and the roe is highly desired, especially in Japan,” says Nancy Marshall a former herring fish boat owner and MARS volunteer.
“Sometimes the run is so strong fish boats can reach their quota limits in one hour or less.”
The fleet total allowable catch is determined each year by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. And it is Fisheries and Oceans that determines when the fishery will open.
The opening of the fishery depends on the roe. Brenda Spence has been with Fisheries and Oceans for 30 years and she is the Manager of this resource.
Speaking from the Coast Guard vessel Neocaligus, Spence says: “We set the total catch limits for the fishery to ensure the resource is sustainable and we test the quality of the roe to determine when we can open the fishery.
“The roe is at its peak just before spawn. To test the roe, we put out a seine net and from the net we take a small hoop net and then a bucket of herring – that’s what we test. And we run this test many times to get a good reading across the run.”
When the roe is ready, the fishing begins until the quotas are reached.
Herring fishery labor intensive
These extremely short intense ‘openings’ are hard work and include the processing of the roe before it is exported.
But the existence of this valuable British Columbia fishery depends on the catch limits set by Fisheries and Oceans.
For more than 10 years, the herring caught for this testing are delivered to MARS to help feed the many injured eagles and herons under care.
The gift of the herring represents a valuable donation for the team at the Wildlife Rescue.
“Last year we looked after 39 eagles and 13 herons,” says Warren Warrtig, president of MARS Wildlife Rescue and professional biologist.
“And these birds need five or six herring every day. The delivery of 1100 pounds of fish makes an enormous difference to us.”
“Many of the fisher guys that run the test program for us want to support MARS,” says Spence.
“And they go out of their way to take the buckets of herring to dock for MARS staff.”