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Spring Season Means One Thing Here on the Coast...

I wanted to share with you a big part of our Spring season on the BC coast- the Herring Season! Growing up in a commercial fishing family both herring and salmon played a pivotal role in our family life.


Massive herring spawns were once common along many parts of the British Columbia coast, and are seemingly on the rebound this year. Pacific herring are an important traditional food source with significant cultural values for coastal Indigenous communities. During spawning season, herring were traditionally pulled from the water with baskets, dip nets, spears and long-handled rakes.  Some people also used stone or wood fish traps in the intertidal area of beaches to trap fish on a declining tide.


Today, herring are caught on commercial fishing vessels gill-nets or seiners, in fact my brother Jesse is just wrapping up his herring season now. Herring are often preserved by smoking or air-drying for later consumption. Herring are preferred bait for halibut fishing, as well as for sport fishing for salmon.


The white fish eggs turn the water the most beautiful turquoise blue, making our rugged coast look almost tropical! 😆



To harvest herring eggs (spawn), Coastal Indigenous peoples suspend hemlock or cedar branches or kelp blades underwater near the spawning grounds. Female herring deposit their eggs on these surfaces, usually in many layers. After the spawning event, the herring eggs can be peeled off the branches or kelp for immediate consumption, or, more commonly, are preserved by air-drying. The dried eggs are then stored for later consumption at feasts, potlatches, and daily meals, or they are traded with neighbours. Herring row on kelp is a delicacy in Japan and for decades has been a lucrative and very challenging fishery in BC. 


There are parallels between herring and the seasonal migrations of salmon: in the same way a big salmon run delivers marine nutrients to organisms on land, this abundant pulse of herring transfers food and nutrients across ecosystems.


While I am certainly no Marine Biologist, I am hoping to see a boost on our salmon return in the coming years due to the increase in herring spawn on the coast. It truly is a sight to see.


I hope you enjoyed this informative update on Indigenous life on the BC Coast!


In health and wellness,


Erin Brillon


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