by Barbara Mills

The local Pacific herring spawn is an amazing, almost spiritual event.  It is one of the great migrations left on earth and reminds us of the amazing cycle of nature at its best.  Millions of herring arrive, accompanied by the array of creatures of air and sea that they serve to nourish.  They spawn and this navy sea turns aqua; a veritable feat of nature.  Sea birds come by the thousands to fatten up on their way north to breed.  Scores of eagles carry herring back to their perches in the trees.  Hundreds of seals and sea lions feast, bark, raft and roar with flippers in the air.  Whales arrive to take advantage of the veritable feast.

When I first came to live on Denman seven years ago, I was blown away by this amazing event.  It seemed like half the island was on the beach celebrating the annual return and its affirmation of the wealth of the sea and life around us.  Islanders photographed the eagles, played, picnicked, and even sampled the roe that clung to the sea weed.  This year, as an armada-like gathering of herring trawlers and gillnetters covered the entire width of the horizon, the mood was profoundly different.  There was an undeniable sense of mourning and helplessness.

Many of us had signed the petition demanding that the Federal government ban the herring kill fishery, knowing that it is no longer profitable, and that 90% of the fish caught go to feed the fish farms.  With Pacific salmon, orcas, sea lions and sea birds declining at an alarming rate, we know that this keystone species must be left in the ocean to feed the food web.  We know that if herring are left in the sea, they can spawn as many as 7 times, continuing to help sealife survive and perhaps recover.  We know that killing these essential sources of nourishment makes no ecological sense.

So this sad year, instead of a celebration, being on the beach became an act of bearing painful witness to one more way that humankind is mindlessly destroying the wealth of this amazing planet. If you weren’t on the beach, the video below says it all!!  Thanks to Sussan Thomson for documenting this event.

This video clip glimpses the gill net fishery and herring spawn in Lambert Channel, in front of our place, Denman Island on March 15, 2019  [2:23]