The Herring are Here. Now What?

By , May 1, 2012

For the last couple of days, we’ve suspected that the herring have arrived, but because of the choppy conditions, we haven’t been able to confirm this by looking in the water and seeing the shoals. Still, it seemed fairly obvious because of the increased activity among the herring eaters that have been gathering in recent weeks. Sunday afternoon, three humpback whales cruised along the edge of our beach, literally shoulder-to-shoulder.

Yesterday, I heard a whale approaching our bight, and went down to the beach to watch. The water had become quite calm, so I knew it would surface shortly when I saw the surface erupt in thousands of herring trying to swim past it into the sky. The whale’s nose burst into the air in the middle of the fish. Seconds later, a second whale did the same—two whales lunge-fed within 50 feet from where I stood. They worked their way up the beach to the neighbor’s land, then circled around and came back by. On their return, I managed to get a couple of photos.

lunge-feeding humpback whale

One of the two whales lunge feeding off our beach yesterday (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

Pretty dramatic proof that the herring have arrived. Now what?

We’re actually questioning whether we should fish for herring this year. We don’t eat much of them, mostly we use them for fertilizer. With our current work outside the homestead, fishing time is limited, and competes with other tasks around the homestead that are just as important, perhaps more so.

The day before we saw the whales, Michelle encountered a raven while she worked in the garden. It dug up the bed around our single asparagus stalk. Apparently, this raven is one of the family of them that dug up all the herring we’d buried in our raised beds as fertilizer last year. In the process, they damaged many of our seedlings and transplants.

Now, we love asparagus, and have been waiting three years for this plant to yield, so a threat from a marauding raven is pretty serious. We began to wonder if we shouldn’t skip fishing the herring run this year, to see if a year with no fish magically appearing underground for the ravens to dig up and eat might break that expectation. It’s hard to say, but we might try it. Or, we might set aside any herring we do catch to ferment into liquid before adding to the crops.

It’s probably too early to say, and most years we get a couple of runs here. I imagine that before long, I won’t be able to resist fishing for the herring after all.

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