A Fisherman’s Reflections on Herring

Ivan - March 14, 2016

IMG_1145

(This is a guest post by one of our fisherman, Ivan Askgaard, as he reflected on the herring seine fishery currently going on in BC.)

The aluminum purse seiner in front of the red one in this photo taken last week at Steveston waits to unload a hold full of herring. At this time of year, it’s really the only the roe that has value and it’s sold primarily to asian markets. Seiners drop a net in a circle, floated on the top with a corkline and sunk on the bottom with a leadline, and then use a draw string to close the bottom up. This method of fishing can be tremendously effective. In the late 70s the Japanese paid 10 times the prices that they pay today for the roe from the herring. Back then, there were a few sets in the 400 ton or more range that worth several million dollars – the crew walking away with enough to buy a home outright.

Those without a license to seine can rent them from retired fishermen or fishing companies. In the good times, a herring seine license could rent for $200,000 just for the opportunity to fish. Back then, under close watch from Fisheries and Oceans the fishing might open for 20 minutes – just enough time to attempt to make one set. A seine captain would listen to 20 radios simultaneously while using his sonar to cut a corner off the main school or isolate a school of manageable size. The maneuvering for position by maybe 50 boats all frantic to make their set let to a little bumping and the odd outright ramming incident. And it was a distinct possibility that a fishermen could have paid that lease and never had a chance to set their net or had “grief” where he couldn’t, forgive the pun, close the deal. These days, the fish are managed by a quota system. Each boat has a set amount to catch so things are nearly so hectic.

If a set made in deep water captures a big school that panic and head for the bottom all at the same time, there is a distinct possibility that all those little heads pushing on the net in the same direction will have enough power to capsize the boat holding to the other end of the net. Usually, partner boats stand in wait to quickly seize on to the corkline to help hold the weight in case a big set is made. Nets rip on snags on the bottom, get caught in propellers and sea lions tear holes. In seining the saying goes “catching them is easy – it’s keeping them that is the hard part.”

In the picture, you’ll see this boat is loaded to where the actual deck is only inches about the water line. Only the air space in the engine room and at the stern in the lazarette around the steering gear, provides flotation. Salt water and fresh water provide far different buoyancy to a vessel because salt water is heavier than fresh water. Over time a few boats loaded to this extent have traveled through the transition from ocean to the fresh water in the river and promptly sunk as a result.

All that behind them, this captain, boat and crew probably have the envy of their colleagues their boat “loaded to gunnels” physical proof that they are high liners.

Ivan - March 14, 2016


Back to blog

A Fisherman’s Reflections on Herring

Ivan - March 14, 2016

Pledge your support and become a member to enjoy the freshest fish in BC!

Sign up now