It’s all in the timing and it’s easy to miss. Last spring I was lucky, and the kids and I witnessed the amazing spectacle that is this country’s largest annual Pacific herring spawn. In other years, I’ve been a day or two late or early.
When the herring arrive in March, the coastlines of Parksville Qualicum Beach comes to life. In addition to tinting the area’s waters a dazzling aquamarine blue – a result of the herring milt mingling with the tepid salt water – the spawn attracts an endless menagerie of marine life, from Brant Geese and surf scoters to seals and sea lions. Thousands of gulls and large numbers of bald eagles gather for the feast.
“We have tens of thousands of migratory waterfowl that basically follow this pulse of productivity that starts down in California and moves northward as the water warms,” says Brian Kingzett, Deep Bay Marine Field Station Manager. “I sort of liken it to the marine equivalent of the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival, where every spring the bloom moves from southern Japan to northern Japan.”
While there was a period from the 70s to the 90s when herring stocks fell to critically low levels, Kingzett says numbers are on the rebound and expects this year’s spawn to exceed 2013’s total of 93,000 tonnes.
Known for its favourable climate and abundance of authentic outdoor activities, Parksville Qualicum Beach is certainly used to its share of tourism – and the spawning season is no different. Over the years, the herring spawn has become a major component of the annual Brant Wildlife Festival, which celebrates the recent resurgence of the Brant geese population and draws nature enthusiasts from around the world.
After getting involved with the festival in 2013, Kingzett says the Deep Bay Marine Field Station will play a bigger role this year, providing the public with lectures as well as boat tours.
“I think seeing the herring spawn firsthand is definitely a privilege,” Kingzett says. “It’s a rare and impressive sight.”