At this time of the year we hear floatplanes flying low over us every day, in ever wider circles. They’re spotter planes, sent out to search for the schools of herring that spawn in the spring, for the sac roe fishery.
An entire school of herring can spawn in a few hours in the intertidal zone, laying their eggs in seaweed, and producing an egg density of up to 6,000,000 eggs per square meter. The above picture may look like scrambled eggs, but it’s actually a stretch of seaweed covered in herring eggs.
This year the Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed the herring fishery early for this area, 4,600 pounds short of the quota they had established, due to the unexpectedly low number of herring spawning.
Overfishing caused the herring fishery to collapse worldwide in 1993.
“Beneath him on the endless slope and boundless floor of the valley, moved a black mass, creeping with snail-like slowness toward the south. It seemed as long as the valley and as wide. It reached to the dim purple distances and disappeared there. The densest part covered the center of the valley, from which ran wide straggling arms, like rivers narrowing toward their sources in the hills….This black mass was alive….Acres of buffalo, miles of buffalo! The shaggy, ragged herd had no end. It dominated slopes, level bottom lands, and the hazy reaches beyond.” —The Last of the Plainsmen by Zane Grey.
I remembered reading this as a kid when one morning in spring I woke up to the sound of a vast herd out on the strait. And when I went to look, there was a river of black, moving bodies stretching as far as the eye could see up and down the strait. They were ducks, interspersed with seagulls. The noise was tremendous as they squabbled, splashed, and beat the air with their wings by the million as they gorged themselves on the enormous school of herring that had come to our shore to spawn.
The water had turned to a beautiful, milky, electric green and herring eggs coated every inch of seaweed as far as we could observe, sparkling in the sunshine. Sea lions roared and snorted. Humpback whales glided with majestic slow grace through the endless stream of ducks and gulls, spouting out their blowholes.
Little did we know as we stood on the rocks, in the last decade before the turn of the millennium, and watched the scene for hours, that it would be the last time we saw such a sight.
Like the buffalo that had roamed the American plains in their millions but then were decimated for their hides in the mid-to-late 1800s, the herring that were once so plentiful–I remember going to school in the nearby village and seeing the harbor flash solid silver, it was so clogged with herring–are now a vanishing species.
4/16/2016 11:46:55 am
Lovely post, Tara, but I’m sorry to learn of your herring loss.
4/17/2016 08:16:18 am
Thanks, Daneel. It’s sad how humans can have “environmental deafness” until it’s too late.
4/17/2016 06:35:25 am
I now have a vivid “memory” of something I have never seen . . . I’m sorry for those who rely on the catch but very glad for the herrings that the season was curtailed. Thanks for taking me back in time with you.
4/17/2016 08:18:55 am
Thanks, “Sis”. It’s funny to me how we assume things will always be the same, forgetting how our actions can create change on a massive scale. I’m glad I was here to experience the all too fleeting moment.
4/19/2016 06:53:10 pm
I remember worms on the sidewalks of the city in which I still live after it rained, and fireflies pulsing on and off on a summer’s eve when I was young. But they are all but gone now, too.
4/20/2016 08:51:26 am
That’s sad, NYC. I’d love to see fireflies, we don’t have them here. I do believe that the earth has an incredible ability to come back from even catastrophic damage, and so do many species, if they’re given the chance.
4/20/2016 11:01:31 am
Yes, things almost die and are reborn if, as you say, we just give them a chance.
4/23/2016 09:51:03 am
I remember when we lived at the old cannery and I would row my little boat The Hornet out into the bay. The hearing were so thick that my ours would scoop them out of the water with each push. I remember watching them for hours as they made waves under the water in a rhythmic harmony on those sunny spring days. It was pretty amazing and I will never forget that experience. What a way to be raised. Couldn’t have asked for a better childhood.
4/23/2016 10:00:13 am
I agree, it was an amazing way to grow up. I don’t think I ever really appreciated how unique and special our childhood was until I started this blog. Thanks for sharing that beautifully written memory, Robin.
P.S. Robin is my second youngest brother and is a foreman at the shipyard in Ketchikan. He’s promised to do a guest blog at some point and I intend to hold him to it!