An injured eagle feasts on a herring at Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society's recovery facility.

Herring test fishery nets haul for MARS

The commercial herring roe fishery is a significant, short-lived event that occurs off the coast of Vancouver Island each spring.

“The Pacific coast herring are considered high quality and the roe is highly desired, especially in Japan,” said Nancy Marshall, a former herring fish boat owner and a volunteer with Mountaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS). “Sometimes the run is so strong fish boats can reach their quota limits in one hour or less.”

The fleet total allowable catch is determined each year by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. And it is Fisheries and Oceans that determines when the fishery will open. The opening of the fishery depends on the roe.

For more than 10 years, the herring caught in the test fishery are delivered to MARS to help feed the many injured eagles and herons under care.

“Many of the fishers that run the test program for us want to support MARS,” said Brenda Spence, who has been with Fisheries and Oceans for 30 years and is manager of the resource. “And they go out of their way to take the buckets of herring to dock for MARS staff.”

The gift of the herring represents a valuable donation for the team at the wildlife rescue centre.

“Last year we looked after 39 eagles and 13 herons,” said Warren Warrtig, president of MARS Wildlife Rescue. “And these birds need five or six herring every day. The delivery of 1100 pounds of fish makes a big difference for us and will last us most of the year.”

Herring are a long lived (up to 15 years) fish species that do not die after they spawn and can reach lengths close to 50cm.