N.S. Herring Fishery Patterns Changing

For the uninitiated, catching fish with all of the modern gear is a simple thing, with the creatures having little chance of surviving the onslaught.

This might be the case in instances where migratory patterns are set, or as in the case of scallops, the prey is basically static on the ocean bottom.

Climate change, especially the warming of ocean waters, is changing all that.

Herring, an important food and bait fish in Atlantic Canada, used to disappear in the fall, with purse seiners tying up by in early October.

Things have changed dramatically during the past few years as the Gulf of Maine has recorded the fastest increase in temperatures than any other ocean body of this size on the planet.

Remember the fish kill at the head of St. Mary’s Bay in south west Nova Scotia last winter?

A cold snap eventually was deemed the culprit for all the dead fish and shellfish washing ashore. Included in the mix was herring.

Herring usually aren’t found in these parts in December and January, but there they were.

The herring fishery in Nova Scotia is a small, but vital part of the entire commercial fishing picture. It provides bait for the most important fishery in the area — the lobster fishery — as well as for the longliners. Most of the catch goes for human consumption.

Where hundreds of boats from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and P.E.I. participated in this fishery when fish reduction was the name of the game, the fishing fleet now consists of a few seiners located in Yarmouth and West Pubnico.

A number of lobstermen with gillnet licenses do participate in this fishery during the summer and fall months when the herring show up in shoal waters. Most of this is frozen or salted for the lobster fishery.

The herring season opened in the Bay of Fundy June 1.

A few trips had been undertaken East of Baccaro, but few fish were found.

This area operates under a 12,000-tonne quota which usually remains uncaught, according to Donna Larkin, manager, Southwest Seiners Ltd. in Pubnico.

“This spring has been really cold, which affects herring movement,” she said.

While the quota hasn’t been set, the industry would like to see 50,000 tonnes, which is more or less what it has been for a number of years.

A few boats fished off Halifax for a few days but didn’t find anything. Earlier, some fish were landed for lobster bait. They were small and are called yum-yums because lobsters are enticed by bait bags containing the fresh product.

A cold spring, together with the warming waters of the Gulf of Maine, could lead to a difficult season for the purse seiners who number around 10 from south west Nova Scotia to the Black’s Harbour area of New Brunswick.

The big question will be to find the schools of fish and to find a pattern so that this industry can operate into the fall season.

Alain Meuse

Contributor - Nova Scotia

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