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High-tech helping researchers better understand this year’s colourful herring spawn

Researchers are using satellites and drones to get a better picture of this year’s herring spawn around Vancouver Island.

Loic Dallaire was out Friday with the Pacific Salmon Foundation, flying a drone to record the turquoise and white spawn spreading along the coastline. He says 100 years ago, herring spawned almost everywhere around the BC coast. These days, spawn locations are limited and depend on factors still not fully understood. The spawn locations are different every year, and by combining satellite with on-the-ground observations researchers hope to get a better idea of fish movements and seasonal patterns.

“It is very, very unpredictable. It’s very hard to say where the herring will spawn,” he says. “This kind of variation has been especially important since 1967, which is the year of the collapse of the population due to intense fisheries.”

According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, after the 1967 collapse of all five herring populations on the coast, they rebounded after several years of fishing closures. However the species have never been able to return to the levels seen a century ago.

Dallaire and other UVIC researchers, including the satellite-oriented spectral lab, are hopeful their work will help researchers, fishers and fisheries managers better understand herring life cycles so they can be protected.

Dallaire offers some tips to go spawn-spotting on local beaches, and some of his images are shared below.

Herring Spawn Spotting Tips

  • Check the forecast — the Island Marine Aquatic Working Group’s Pacific Herring Spawn Reporting Facebook page is updated regularly throughout the day during spawning season.
  • Get up high — the vibrant colours of the eggs and milt will be more visible from a bluff or overlook above the shoreline.
  • Look for life — Birds will be the first to spot the spawn, if you see shorebirds circling over the beach, you may have discovered a spawning location. As well, the spawn attracts all sorts of sea life that depends on the annual event, take your time exploring the shoreline to see how herring support multiple coastal ecosystems.

Photos (All images provided by Loic Dallaire, courtesy of Pacific Salmon Foundation and University of Victoria)


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