Free webinar lectures on herring and the protection of natural shorelines in the Salish Sea

Free webinar lectures on herring and the protection of natural shorelines in the Salish Sea

Herring fishing near Denman and Hornby island in the 1980s  | Bob Cain photo

Free webinar lectures on herring and the protection of natural shorelines in the Salish Sea


The demise of the Salish Sea’s unique population of our resident killer whales confirms what biologists increasingly recognize: that the Salish Sea is “a collapsed ecosystem.”

The food chains that support the chinook salmon populations on which orcas depend have been largely driven to extinction through the destruction of beaches and estuaries that support forage fish on which chinook depend as well as through overfishing.

In keeping with its educational and civic mandate Comox Valley Nature presents a week-long series of five (5) free public lectures on the state, importance and protection of natural green shorelines for herring and forage fish starting Monday, Feb. 22 and ending Friday, Feb. 26 at 10 am.

Although overfishing is an important current public concern, shoreline armouring is no less responsible, even though it is politically overlooked. The state of Washington has recently passed very progressive laws that place the responsibility squarely on landowners, industries and municipalities to reduce and even remove hard armouring detrimental to fish habitat.

To restore BC’s fisheries to a semblance of their original productivity BC must take similar steps. The University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre recently published an important report: “Saving Orcas by Protecting Fish-Spawning Beaches”. The report explores legal avenues to enable similar legislation within Canadian law.

Dr. John Nielson (DFO) will kick things off with an overview of the state of herring off Cape Lazo. That will be followed on Tuesday by the UVic Environmental Law Centre presentation.

On Wednesday, Feb. 24 internationally Dr Ignacio Vilchis from San Diego Zoo who is internationally recognized for his work on the negative impacts of hard shores on seabird populations will present “Assessing seabird ecological correlates to inform conservation.”

On Thursday, Feb. 25, Dr Robert Rangeley from the non-profit “Oceana” will present a report on Canadian Fisheries and the importance of forage fish in “Rebuilding fisheries: unlocking Canada’s potential for abundant oceans .

The series will close with Salish Sea Herring Archaeology, an eye-opening overview of the state of herring before contact, as revealed from archaeological reconstructions, by UVic’s Dr Iain McKechnie.

The series is hosted for Comox Valley Nature by the Canadian Society of Environmental Biologists. The webinars are free and open to the public. URL’s for registration is can be found at the CVN website under the heading “CSEB Webinars”,

CVN is a non-profit always welcomes new members. Inquiries should be directed to Dr L. Maingon (250 331 0143). Parties interested in the status of herring in the Salish Sea are encouraged to also sign up for the Hornby Island Herringfest.


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Learn more about Salish Sea whales at Sarah Patton’s Denman Island lecture

Learn more about Salish Sea whales at Sarah Patton’s Denman Island lecture

Photo courtesy of Ocean Wise

Learn more about Salish Sea whales at Sarah Patton’s Denman Island lecture


Do you want to learn about the threats facing whales in our waters and what local citizens can do to help to protect them? Comox Valley Nature has invited Sarah Patton to present an illustrated talk, The Whales in Our Waters, at 2:00 pm Thursday, May 30 in the Denman Island Community Hall, 1196 Northwest Road, Denman Island. 

Patton is a Research Biologist with Ocean Wise’s Marine Mammal Research Program, and coordinator of its Southern Vancouver Island Cetacean Research Initiative (SVICRI).

Ocean Wise’s Marine Mammal Research Program has conducted conservation-oriented research on killer whales, belugas and other marine mammals since the mid-1980s. The program focuses on long-term studies of marine mammal populations in BC, and works across multiple science-based platforms to understand and mitigate the threats they face.

Patton’s experience in her field includes nearly 20 years working on marine research and conservation within governments in Canada, Australia and the USA, with several Canadian and international non-profits, and within academia. She holds a master’s degree in marine conservation biology from James Cook University in Australia, which she took as a Rotary International Academic Ambassador representing Eastern Canada. She also earned an undergraduate degree in marine biology from Dalhousie University, and a diploma in adult education.

In her spare time, Sarah is an avid outdoors woman and naturalist, and an active member of Maritime Search and Rescue Station #35 in Victoria.

Comox Valley Nature is a non-profit society affiliated with BC Nature, consisting only of unpaid volunteers. CVN fulfills its educational mandate by hosting monthly lectures, organizing free weekly guided hikes for members, and a free monthly walk open to the public. Comox Valley Nature also supports specialized groups (birding, botany, marine and shoreline, conservation, Garry Oak restoration, wetland restoration, photography and a Young Naturalists Club) which have separate monthly activities. Membership in BC Nature and Comox Valley Nature is $30 per adult or for a family.

Founded in 1966, it is one of the oldest environmental societies on the North Island. Meetings and lectures of the Comox Valley Naturalists Society are held on the third Sunday of most months at the Florence Filberg Centre in Courtenay. Meetings and guided walks are open to the public, including children and youth.

This lecture is free, although a $4 contribution from non-members would be appreciated. New memberships are always welcomed.

Anyone interested in this lecture or participating in CVNS activities can contact CVN at their website.  







Survival has become uncertain for the southern resident killer whale. For years, pressures on these awe-inspiring whales — icons of the Pacific coast, culturally significant to First Nations people and beloved by tourists — have been increasing. Today, only 74 wild southern resident killer whales remain, and the next few years will determine if the group can rebuild or go functionally extinct.

Scientific name: Orcinus orca
Status: Endangered
Adult Weight: Up to five tonnes
Diet: Chinook salmon
Population: 74 individuals
Location: Southeastern Alaska to central California. In spring and summer, they can be found off the coast of British Columbia in the Salish Sea.

— World Wildlife Fund Canada


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Free webinar lectures on herring and the protection of natural shorelines in the Salish Sea

DFO allows herring fishery, despite wide protest

Bob Cain photo

DFO allows herring fishery, despite wide protest


In  a move that will certainly the federal government’s own efforts to protect Southern resident Killer Whales in the Salish Sea, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced this week that the March herring fishery would go ahead as planned.

Several groups, including Conservancy Hornby Island, and 42,000 people who signed a petition to stop this year’s herring fishery believe DFO’s action will have negative long-term impacts on chinook salmon stocks. Herring make up 80 percent of chinook salmon’s diet, and chinook comprise roughly 80 percent of Killer Whales’ food source.

Conservancy Hornby Island issued the following statement yesterday, Feb. 4:

Conservancy Hornby Island and the 42,000 and counting people who signed the petition to close down the herring roe fishery in the Strait of Georgia off the west coast of Canada are disappointed with the recent announcement made by DFO regarding the commercial fishery that will happen this March and April.

Conservancy Hornby Island president Grant Scott said, “We were hoping that DFO would listen to the people and seriously restrict this fishery that just doesn’t make sense. The quota set for 2019 is basically the same as last year. The fleet is allowed to take 27,500 tons of herring between the roe, bait and food fisheries.

This represents approximately 200,000,000 herring or the weight equivalent to the largest BC ferry full of cars, trucks and people. While 10 percent of the roe fishery will be consumed directly by people, most of this crucial part of the marine food web will be ground up into fish meal for the fish farm and pet food industries.”

Scott went on to say, “Herring is the cornerstone species for many of the mammals, fish and seabirds who live in or migrate through the Strait of Georgia. Strait of Georgia Orcas and spring salmon are listed by one arm of the federal government as “endangered” while another allows a massive herring fishery when 62% of chinook salmon diet is herring and 80% of Orca diet is chinook salmon. To kill this many
herring in the commercial fishery rather than leaving them to support these other species doesn’t make sense to us.”

DFO says SOG herring are “at or near historic highs” yet there is archaeological evidence and First Nations’ traditional knowledge that historically there was much more herring all around the Strait of Georgia. DFO calculates what it calls “historic high” based on one part of the herring run between Parksville and Comox.

At one time there were huge runs in Vancouver harbour, around the southern gulf islands and all along the Sunshine coast. They are all gone. 4 of the 5 herring spawn areas on the BC coast including Haida Gwaii, Prince Rupert, Central Coast and the west coast of Vancouver Island are shut down because of over fishing Given DFO’s poor track record in sustainably managing herring on our coast it is hard for us to believe the SOG herring around Hornby and Denman won’t eventually go the same way.

Recently we have received a lot of support from the sports fishing and whale watching industries who say that combined they earned approximately $500,000,000 and employed thousands of people full time in 2016, compared to the herring fishery that generated $56,000,00 and fewer than 100 full-time equivalent jobs according to the BC Ministry of Agriculture statistics division that. They say herring are critical for the salmon and whales that are the basis of their businesses and an essential element of “Super Natural BC”, an image we like to sell to the world.

In summary, we think it makes much more sense to leave these fish in the ocean not only for environmental reasons but because it makes good economic sense.

For more information contact: Grant Scott, CHI president, 250-218-2323



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Herring fishery hurts bi-national orca recovery efforts

Herring fishery hurts bi-national orca recovery efforts

The  Hornby-Denman islands herring fishery in the 1980s  /  Bob Cain photo — View gallery below

Herring fishery hurts bi-national orca recovery efforts


Killer whales that live, play and forage for food in the Salish Sea are starving to death. To help them, both sides of the U.S.-Canada Pacific Northwest border have launched multi-million dollar initiatives to increase the chinook salmon stocks that comprise 80 percent of the orcas’ diet.

But the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ plans to undercut those international efforts have baffled orca conservation organizations.

FURTHER READING: Canada and Washington state announce orca recovery programs

In March, the DFO has scheduled a massive industrial kill of the small silver Pacific herring in the Denman and Hornby island area. It’s the last remaining significant herring spawning area in the Pacific Northwest, from Alaska to Washington state.

Conservancy Hornby Island has asked the federal government to close the herring roe fishery planned for next month. Pacific Wild, a conservation voice dedicated to ensuring preservation of the Great Bear Rainforest, has demanded termination of the fishery.

Grant Scott, spokesperson for the Hornby Island group, says the the DFO has failed to consider the impact of the herring fishery on the entire Salish Sea ecosystem.

The diet of the endangered and declining populations of southern resident Killer Whales consists of 80 percent chinook salmon. And the diet of salmon consists of 80 percent Pacific herring.

“It doesn’t take a scientist to make the important link between herring and killer whales,” Scott said in a statement to Decafnation. “Wouldn’t it make sense to leave this stock alone to hopefully rebuild all the herring schools on our coast and the marine life that needs them for survival?”

Scott said discontinuing the fishery wouldn’t harm anyone.

The industry now supports few jobs or taxes for the province. In the mid-1980s, commercial fishermen were awash in profits when herring earned up to $5,000 per ton. Today, the price ranges from $150 to $700 per ton, because Japanese taste for the delicacy has faded.

According to BC Ministry of Agriculture data, the herring fishery was valued at $309 million in 1995 (adjusted for inflation), but only $58 million in 2017 for the same tonnage of fish.

But that isn’t the worst impact of continuing the herring fishery.

“Ninety percent of the herring are ground up for fish farm food and pet food.” he said. “Using wild fish for non-human consumption is illegal under the federal Fisheries Act. When 90 percent of the herring is used for fish farm and pet food is the federal Minister of Fisheries breaking the law?”

The DFO doesn’t exactly have a good track record of managing the herring population. It’s policies have lead to the closure of four of the six major herring stocks on the BC coast in the last 20 years, according to Scott, who is a former commercial fisher. Basically, herring have declined because they’ve been overfished.

The DFO set a top limit for killing 28,000 tons of spawning herring in the upcoming March opening. That’s the rough equivalent of 200 million fish.

Scott says Conservancy Hornby Island believes this last productive spawning ground will get overfished this year, and that will impact other species, such as salmon and Killer Whales.

“We are asking for our politicians’ support in closing down the herring roe fishery, or at least closing the senine roe fishery in the Strait of Georgia, especially around Hornby and Denman islands,” Scott said.

According to the Hornby group, Vancouver businessman Jimmy pattison owns most of the seine boats working the coast.

Historically abundant fish

An archeology study of fish bones on the Pacific Northwest coast found that herring was the region’s most abundant fish dating back 10,000 years.

But herring stocks started to decline for the first time in the late 1800s when the industrial fish kill began. A Simon Fraser University study concluded that spawning patterns and population decline had been altered by 1910.

And yet, DFO has increased the number of herring allowed to be caught.

According to Pacific Wild’s website, Denman-Hornby will be the only area fished in 2019. But while the “coast-wide catch has declined with herring abundance in the last 30 years, the quantity of fish taken from the Salish Sea has more than doubled,” the organization says.

Scott says that although the DFO claims to manage herring according to the principles of Ecosystem Based Management. But the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program, which evaluates ecological sustainability of wild-caught seafood in North America, thinks otherwise.

In its 2016 evaluation of the herring fishery, the program said, “Currently (DFO) management of the herring fisheries does not account for ecosystem considerations when determining abundance (or) allowable catch. As herring is an important source of food for a variety of species, the lack of ecosystem considerations … in the fisheries’ overall management warrants a score of ‘high’ concern.”

Canadian and Washington state governments might be wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on orca recovery programs to increase salmon stocks, if the salmon themselves don’t have enough food to sustain even current population levels.






Pacific herring prefer spawning locations in sheltered bays and estuaries. Conditions that trigger spawning are not altogether clear, but after spending weeks congregating in the deeper channels, both males and females will begin to enter shallower inter-tidal or sub-tidal waters. Submerged vegetation, especially eelgrass, is a preferred substrate for oviposition. A single female may lay as many as 20,000 eggs in one spawn following ventral contact with submerged substrates. However, the juvenile survival rate is only about one resultant adult per 10,000 eggs, due to high predation by numerous other species.

The precise staging of spawning is not understood, although some researchers suggest the male initiates the process by release of milt, which has a pheromone that stimulates the female to begin oviposition. The behavior seems to be collective so that an entire school may spawn in the period of a few hours, producing an egg density of up to 6,000,000 eggs per square meter. The fertilized spherical eggs, measuring 1.2 to 1.5 millimeters in diameter, incubate for approximately 10 days in estuarine waters that are about 10 degrees Celsius. Eggs and juveniles are subject to heavy predation.

— Wikipedia


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