The beauty of Pacific herring

Herring-stuffed harbor seal

Herring-stuffed harbor seal

2011 is the first year I really started noticing the herring of the Salish Sea. In past years I’d notice the occasional glimmering ball of “bait fish” or “forage fish” from the dock of the Friday Harbor Labs or a bluff of convenience in the San Juans, but they were always pretty limited — typically isolated, not very dense, and about a meter across. But last summer I sailed through a tremendous herring run when transiting from the San Juans to Seattle and witnessed feasting — by minke whales, harbor seals, sea birds, and even a humpback. Then this fall the students and Robin captured underwater video clips of forage fish, probably herring, at Lime Kiln.

And then yesterday Robin mentioned seeing about 30 harbor seals chasing herring all around the docks at the Labs as we prepared to deploy a fish tag receiver on the far side of San Juan Channel with Tina and Chuck. While scoping out the site, she and I were pleasantly surprised to find a small school of herring very close to shore at Point George on Shaw Island. It was a glassy calm, sunny November afternoon, and it was quite beautiful to watch the fish swimming slowly in and out of the little rocky embayment.

Here are a few videos that capture the underwater scenery. After these sightings and some intriguing talks at the recent Salish Sea Ecosystem talks (in which Fred Felleman made it clear that we are not paying enough attention to our herring stocks — especially on this side of the border), I”m left feeling that these shiny fish warrant further study, appreciation, and conservation effort.

Does anyone else have herring highlights to share? How about handy ways to keep track of the status (2008 report) and dynamics of herring throughout the year?

1 Comment

  1. Scott Veirs

    May 4th, 2012 at 01:28

    An excellent 2011 summary the paucity and under-funding of Salish Sea forage fish data —

    — including link to the SeaDoc Society’s forage fish needs assessment —

    — and a 1916 description of a passing massive school of forage fish making the sound of a “hailstorm in water” that is akin to my characterization of “near-constant sizzling” here —

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