Herring

The fishery

As one of the most well-known fish species around the world, Herring has been termed the “single most important fish in human history” for many cultures. In the early 19th century, the Pacific Herring fishery became BC’s most prominent fishery. Today, Herring are mainly fished for their eggs. Herring Roe, also referred to as Kazunko is a delicacy in Japan.  Herring spawn-on-kelp, referred to as Kazunoko Kombu is also a preferred Japanese dish.

The Herring Conservation (HCRS) and Research Society contributes to the research and management of the Herring fishery to ensure the stocks are monitored and assessed using the best available data.  Commercial Herring fishers fully fund the Herring Conservation & Research Society.

About

Pacific Herring are a type of forage fish, which reproduce in very high numbers. Herring plays a critical, foundational role in the ecosystem. Pacific Herring typically live for 8 to 16 years and reach sexual maturity at age three. In early Spring, tens of thousands of tonnes of Herring migrate from offshore habitats and return to shallow protected inlets in BC to spawn. Female herring lay eggs, and the male herring release a milky sperm into the water to fertilize the released roe. The hundreds of billions of herring eggs combined with the milt turn the ocean a milky turquoise colour.

On average, a single female Herring spawns around 20,000 eggs annually. Young Herring feed on phytoplankton and adult Herring feed on larger zooplankton, smaller fish, and fish larvae.

The harvest

There are three main Herring fisheries in BC. The Spawn on Kelp fishery is the harvest of only Herring eggs. Harvesting occurs in February or March when Herring eggs attach to blades of kelp after the spawn. The blades of kelp are harvested with Herring Roe attached. The Food and Bait Herring fishery occurs in the fall and winter when Herring start to migrate inshore to spend the winter in shallow inlets in preparation for spawning. Herring for the Food and Bait are harvested using seine gear when the fat concentration of the fish is the highest. The Roe Herring fishery is the most significant fishery, and it takes place as the Herring gather to spawn from late February to the end of March. Opening dates for this fishery are announced once the roe has matured to optimum quality.

The Herring Roe fishery uses two gear types: gillnets and seines. Small gillnet boats place a net in the shallow water where Herring are spawning. As Herring attempt to swim through the net, they get caught. The gillnet mesh is just big enough to allow their heads through, and they get stuck behind their gills. Seine boats are used in deeper water during the Herring breeding season. Once a school is found, the skiff will encircle the fish using a net. The lead line is pulled, pursing the net closed at the bottom preventing fish from escaping. The Herring fisheries are strictly monitored and require extensive in-season management and cooperation from Herring harvesters.

Herring - Georgia Strait

Sustainability

Pacific Herring support numerous BC species including, seabirds, Salmon, and Hake. Therefore, the management of this fishery is closely monitored to guarantee that the catch is limited and ensure the vast majority of adult Herring are available to support the ecosystem. The fishery is limited entry with a set number of licence holders. The Total Allowable Catch (TAC) is set at up to 20% of the total Herring biomass, which limits the amount of Herring that can be harvested. The quota is split up between all three the Herring fisheries and licence holders. At the end of each fishing day, Herring catch is validated by a third-party observer. The catch is weighed and counted against each licence holder’s TAC, ensuring that the quota is not exceeded for the season. Over the past 20 years, the Herring industry has contributed tens of millions of dollars to studying Herring along the coast. Annual surveys are conducted using commercial divers to correctly count the total egg deposition along the coast of BC. The data from dive surveys combined with fishery sample data and dockside monitoring provide a very vagarious stock assessment model for Herring in BC. The data set and quality for BC Herring is known to be the best data set for any worldwide Herring fishery.

When

The Herring Roe fishery typically starts in March, as Herring begins to spawn from late February to late March. The Seine fishery harvests Herring first and ends when the quota is met. The gillnet fishery then starts and can last anywhere from 3 to 14 days. The length of the season is dependent on individual licence holders and vessels fulfilling their quota. There are only a few days when the Roe is at optimal quality, so it is a highly time-sensitive fishery.

When

The Herring Roe fishery typically starts in March, as Herring begins to spawn from late February to late March. The Seine fishery harvests Herring first and ends when the quota is met. The gillnet fishery then starts and can last anywhere from 3 to 14 days. The length of the season is dependent on individual licence holders and vessels fulfilling their quota. There are only a few days when the Roe is at optimal quality, so it is a highly time-sensitive fishery.

Where

In BC, there are five major areas of herring spawning: Haida Gwaii, Prince Rupert area; Central Coast, Strait of Georgia, and West Coast of Vancouver Island.  All 5 areas have supported commercial herring fisheries from time to time.  In recent years commercial fisheries have been limited to Prince Rupert, Central Coast and Strait of Georgia due to lower abundance levels in the other areas and precautionary management. The main area of Pacific Herring fisheries is the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and Vancouver Island. This is where the biomass of Herring populations is highest. As a forage fish, Herring will move around when there is an increase in predators. Although Herring spawn all along the coast of BC, the fishery typically takes place mid-Island around Qualicum Beach. The majority of Herring are landed at French Creek Dock on Vancouver Island or in the Lower Mainland.

The market

The main market for BC Herring and Herring Roe is Japan. Herring Roe, also called Kazunoko is a delicacy in Japan for New Year’s Day. The Roe is about 15% to 20% of the Herring. After the Roe is removed, other parts of the Herring are enjoyed for human consumption in markets around the world. Both China and the USA are growing markets for Pacific Herring. Herring is also converted into fish meal or fish oil for livestock or fish feed. As a highly oily fish, Herring is perfect for pickling, curing, and smoking. Many different cultures around the world have their own way of preparing Herring!