Spring on the coast isn’t just about cherry blossoms lining the streets, young greens peaking out of the ground, and the start of warmer weather. The dawn of the herring run also marks the beginning of spring. Spearheading the fishing season on the Northwest coast, herring are a significant food source to other fish and sea life, and they physically transform our bays and tidal flats for a couple of weeks. When the herring run, the fishermen catch, the salmon prey, the orcas surface, and the coastlines transform. The commercial fishermen sit on the edge of their seats waiting for an opening to fish herring, and the sights and sounds of the water and the hungry wailing gulls are enough to draw passersby to the water’s edge.
So what is the attraction? The herring runs provided employment for numerous regional commercial fishermen. Being a rich resource, the fish can be used for meat, and rendered down to be used for fertilizers, oil, and cosmetics. When the herring pass, they spawn and lay their eggs all along the shore in intertidal and sub-tidal waters and on vegetation. Sometimes the density of the eggs laid can vary from being scattered around to more than 20 layers, blanketing our coastlines like snow – definitely a sight to see! Not only do the seagulls, eagles, and other marine life enjoy these eggs, but so do gourmands who have a taste for roe. As the fish run, they travel in schools – there are thousands of them. The sheer numbers transform the natural deep blue green of our oceans to a milky bright turquoise blue. It is the light reflecting off the silvery and shimmering herring that creates this phenomenon.
Blossoms and buds mark the dawn of spring on land, and herring bring the ocean to life in the water.
To learn more about how the Gulf of Georgia Cannery’s rendering plant processed and used herring, come by the historic site, and enjoy a self-guided tour or let an historical interpreter be your guide.