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Herring Fish Rely on Seaweed

herring rely on seaweed to spawn

We all know how seaweed is for our skin and health but it’s also pretty great for garden mulch.

Thing is, that seaweed washed up on the beach should not be collected in February, March and April (Fall is the best time). Why? Because herring will often choose seaweeds as their anchor for their eggs. The egg-laden seaweed sometimes gets broken off in the ocean and washes ashore. Those eggs can survive until the next tide but if you take that seaweed, you can potentially destroy thousands of herring eggs.

Herring is just one of the types of schooling fishes. There are also anchovy, sand lance, surf smelt, sardine, capelin, and eulachon. These small fish are food (or forage) for hundreds of species including birds, marine mammals, and larger fish.

The Sunshine Coast Friends of Forage Fish group likes to remind people of this on an annual basis, as many are not aware of the damage they could cause by taking seaweed from our local beaches.

“They’re tough little suckers, these eggs,” said Dianne Sanford, a member of the group. “Even though the eggs are attached to seaweeds that break off and wash up, as long as they’re getting moist, they can even be exposed for a while between tides and they will survive. So if we go and we pick seaweed and take it away, we’re destroying thousands of potential babies.”

Pacific herring stocks are shadows of their former abundance, according to Craig Welch of the National Geographic magazine.

Scientists argue that too few governments consider the essential role forage fish play in marine systems. The Canadian government has ignored warnings from scientists, Native people, and even commercial fishing groups by allowing fishing nets to scoop up spawning herring.

Herring in North American waters have suffered.

“Herring populations outside Juneau, Alaska, crashed in 1982 and have never come back. Prince William Sound herring collapsed in 1993. Washington State’s largest herring population has declined 90 percent since 1973, and herring that used to live for ten years now rarely survive more than four.”

Researchers discovered that diving seabird populations have declined whenever forage fish numbers plummet.

The threat of overfishing and the impact a herring population collapse could have on British Columbia’s marine ecosystem, particularly chinook salmon and southern resident killer whales, has conservation, environmental, and some Indigenous groups demanding an indefinite suspension of the fishery.

So we can do our small part by leaving that seaweed be, and letting the fish babies hatch.