You often hear it on the local VHF radio talk.

“There’s lotsa marine life up XX inlet, just past XXX Cove”.  All the locals here know that’s a sure sign of a herring activity in the area.  We’re quantify this well known “spawn effect” by counting the total abundance of birds and marine and terrestrial mammals at our sites every time we sample there.  We can compare these numbers to sites without spawn, which seem empty compared to the high abundance of eagles, gulls, sea lions and occasionally the lone wolf or bear, that we count at the spawn sites.

This year, at first, it seemed like we were seeing far fewer birds associated with spawning (compared to what we saw last year).  But, of late, down at our Southern sites, like Kwakume Inlet, the birds and sea lions have arrived in large numbers following the spawn! When the herring were spawning the sea lions were very numerous, and the gulls and eagles were having a blast munching on herring as they left their roe and milt (spawn) on the shoreline.  Now, large rafts of surf scoters (black ducks), Canada geese and buffleheads (amongst others), have moved in.  The scoters are especially noisy and keep company with our boat tender as we visit the the underwater world of our dive transects.

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Herring roe eyes

I like to think I’ve developed eyes for sighting herring roe on the shoreline.  The tell-tale sign is that the high intertidal seaweed, called Fucus, or Rockweed, looks clumped and slightly white.  I think it looks a bit like dreadlocks. We’re all developing an eye for herring roe on in the intertidal zone here, as we cruise the shoreline in our boat and measure the total coastline length of the spawn at each of our dive sites.  This is important to characterize and differentiate the different sites. For instance, in Spiller Channel, where we have two sites, spawn length is almost 8 km, whereas, Kwakume Inlet, where we just set-up a site, is much smaller and has smaller spawn lengths (a couple of km’s).  Potentially, the length of spawn could affect the number of animals aggregating after a spawn event to feed on the spawning herring and their roe.

Its been almost two weeks since we we saw the first sign that the herring eggs were getting ready to hatch.  Two little black eyes were developing in many of the fertilized eggs. An eye for an eye!

Now, the eyes are everywhere, and many have emerged. Many animals are all legs when they emerge – these fish are still all eyes! Brian Hunt, and the oceanography team, are scooping them up in their nets in high numbers. Neil Frazer, our genetics team man-on-the-water, is collected eyed eggs for analyses. We’re literally up to our eyeballs in hatching herring!

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Photo Update

With our first day on land in quite a while, we have been able to access the internet and upload some much overdue photos. Sorry to keep you waiting, enjoy!

Spawn down South in Kwakume – shores are radiating with sperm!Image

Sea lions enjoying a herring buffet.Image

Testing out our underwater GoPro cameras. We will be using these to capture critters eating roe! (From left to right: Yago, Britt, Ryan)Image

Hermit crab on herring roe.Image

We have been blessed again with beautiful weather, making our days on the water all the more enjoyable. Looking forward to being back in the water tomorrow!Image

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Spawn Patrol

Things here in Bella Bella have been great for our dive team. Herring have been spawning over the past week and a half, allowing us to set up five different sites to monitor over the coming weeks for egg loss. Today we visited a site further South that was reported to have spawned already, but when we arrived the action was still in full swing! We were able get in close to see herring in the shallows spawning, while taking in the bounty of wildlife around feasting on fish. Our original mission was to dive and set up a few transect lines, but we descended and could hardly see our hands in front of us because of the milt in the water. All hopes of counting anything underwater were immediately deemed lofty. We will return in a few days once the spawn has stopped to set our lines and start surveying.  
There has also been plenty of activity happening in town with the Enbridge hearing. We were lucky to have the day off on Sunday and participate in the protest at the airport. We have been busy on the water and unable to catch any of the hearings over the past couple of days, but locals have been telling us they are going really well.
We will be out once again on a (herring) egg hunt tomorrow, and wish you all a Happy Easter! 
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Team and Project Introductions

The crew currently here in Bella Bella consists of the four of us:

  • Dr. Margot Hessing-Lewis – Post Doc, SFU
  • Britt Keeling – Master’s Student, SFU
  • Ryan Cloutier – M.Sc., Dive Master Extraordinaire
  • Yago Doson Col – Master’s Student, UBC

We make up the dive team that will be carrying out research at herring spawn locations here on the Central Coast.

What’s in store for this year?

This year we will be revisiting herring spawning sites in order to estimate how many herring eggs are lost through time to things like predation and wave action. This value is interesting for a number of reasons. Not only will it will give us a better idea of the importance of herring roe as a source of food for other species in the ecosystem, a value for egg loss can also be used directly in herring stock assessment models. One way that herring population numbers are estimated is by using dive surveys, where dive teams visit spawn locations and count the number of eggs present. This number is then used to estimate how many herring were there to spawn. However, because it takes time to visit several spawn sites, dive teams arrive at a herring spawn location several days to weeks after a spawn event. During this time lag, several eggs may be lost and won’t be counted. We hope to provide an egg loss value that can be used as a correction factor to account for eggs lost between when the spawn starts and when the dive team arrives.

But wait, there’s more!!

As mentioned in our last post, several other researchers will be joining us in coming weeks, all with exciting projects planned. Keep posted for more introductions and hopefully some guest blogging!

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Back At It

March 24th

We made it! We were lucky to fly in on a clear blue sky day and look over the beautiful landscape we will call home for the next month and a half. Our first few days were spent collecting and organizing gear, settling into our new homes, as well as reconnecting with several folks in town. After a couple of snowy, rainy days, we have been blessed with beautiful, sunny weather and have taken the opportunity to get several dives in. We are training ourselves as best we can so we’re ready for when the herring begin to spawn. The numbers coming in from the test boats (boats out sounding and sampling fish) tell us that the herring are filling up with eggs and are getting close to spawning. We’re hoping they hold off for a few more days until we have all of our gear in order – this may be wishful thinking.

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‘Tis the Season

It’s unbelievable that a year has passed and our herring field crew is once again assembling to head back to Bella Bella. Despite the flurry of packing and last minute arrangements, there is an underlying level of excitement buzzing throughout the team. Even Vancouver is telling us it’s time to go, with days that go from sunny blue sky, to rain storm, to hail, back to sun, otherwise known as ‘herring weather’.

Our field team is slightly larger than last year, and is made of people from many different backgrounds. There will be a core group of us diving the herring spawn and monitoring egg loss through time. Another team will be looking at the local oceanography of spawn locations and what this means for newly hatched herring, and a third team will be working on herring genetics and population structure. Plenty to keep us busy!!

We arrive on Monday March 19th and look forward to reconnecting with all of the lovely people we met last year. Our home base will be the float house in Martin’s Bay, so feel free to stop by and say hello!

We are also quite excited to be expanding this blog to broadly encompass the entire herring school. Watch for updates and exciting news from the rest of the crew!

We’ll leave you with a recent clip of our friend Scott Wallace from the David Suzuki Foundation talking about herring! Enjoy!



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