Ah, Canada’s West Coast! Orcas, both transient and resident, grizzlies and black bears, dolphins and Dahl’s porpoises, salmon, from the huge springs to the hard fighting cohos and of course sockeyes, to mention just a few. Stellar sea lions and their smaller Californian cousins along with the ever-elusive harbour seals. Then there are migratory birds like swans, Canada and black brant geese as well as a plethora of assorted ducks, which use the waters of Georgia Straight between Vancouver Island and the mainland as their wintering or stopover points in their never-ending migration. And many of these have one thing in common: they all rely either directly or indirectly on the lowly herring for their survival.
Let me start off with some fundamental statements.
When I went to high school during the 1960’s I learned the following "facts" about Canada:
1. The Cod on the Great Banks off Newfoundland's coast they will never run out.
2. There is so much standing timber that it will never run out.
3. The salmon are running so thick in British Columbia's rivers that you can walk across the river without getting your feet wet.
4. Give a man a fish he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.
These "facts" have one thing in common: they are all wrong. During the 1980’s the cod stock of the great banks were so depleted that a moratorium on cod fishing was put in place by Canada and shots were fired across the bow of a Spanish fishing trawler to enforce said moratorium. Today there is a well regulated fishery but it will never be the way it used to be.
Timber was indeed plentiful at one point and was managed quite well until the 1990s when there was a mountain pine beetle attack in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. The provincial government of the day decided not to address the issue because of its location. In hindsight this was a very big mistake. In order to salvage the beetle-killed timber sawmills were running full bore until very recently. With the timber supply depleted many mills are now shutting down and the government announced that for the next 50-70 years the timber supply will be extremely limited.
The third fact is easy to refute. When in recent memory has anyone been able to walk across a stream without getting their feet wet? Not me. Salmon are a carefully managed resource. Is this resource managed well? I'm not so sure.
The fourth statement is actually true. As long as the man is fishing for his own sustenance the fishery will be sustainable. But if the man builds a fleet of fishing vessels and takes as much as he wants the resource will soon be depleted.
Enter the herring of Georgia Straight. Insignificant little creature. Or is it? Obviously, it is on the bottom of the food chain. And, when processed, they can be purchased fairly inexpensively at your favourite supermarket either kippered or in tomato, mustard or curry sauces, to mention just a few. Another favourite product are rollmops or tidbits, both packed in a vinegar-based brine. Then why all the fuzz about the herring fishery? This however is not what this fishery is all about. The herring fishery in the Georgia Straight is for herring roe only. The fish are caught with nets indiscriminately, the roe is removed from the females and the carcasses of both male and female fish are then processed into fish pellets, which then are used as food on salmon farms along the B.C. coast. In contrast the First Nations fishery relies on kelp and hemlock branches suspended in the water of sheltered bays where the females lay their eggs. the fish are allowed to escape to lay eggs another year.
As it turns out humans are not the only ones catching the herring. Other species rely on the lowly herring for their survival. There are Pacific White Sided Dolphins, which feed on the herring year-round. Salmon, another species with declining numbers, rely on the herring to build up their fat reserves before heading up the countless creeks and rivers to spawn. Salmon are in turn a food source for other stakeholders: Resident Orcas, Stellar Sea Lions, Harbour Seals and Dahl's Porpoises all feed on salmon. They, with the exception of the the Resident Orcas, are in turn food of the Transient Orcas, which also frequent these waters. Salmon are also an important food source for both Grizzlies and Black Bears, which need the salmon to fatten themselves up prior to their hibernation.
So, in order to have a sustainable ecosystem it is perhaps time to end the annual massacre of the lowly herring before the the ecosystem collapses and the carcasses of other species start washing up on the shores of the Georgia straight.
For more detailed information on the subject please click on the link below.
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