Herring catch


0414 thumb nextBY LINDA BAKER

Clupea pallasii, the Pacific herring, is prized in many countries for its eggs; during the March spawning season, fishermen in British Columbia and Alaska process hundreds of thousands of tons of the fish — before they have a chance to reproduce.

Share this article!

0414 news nextBY LINDA BAKER

Clupea pallasii, the Pacific herring, is prized in many countries for its eggs; during the March spawning season, fishermen in British Columbia and Alaska process hundreds of thousands of tons of the fish — before they have a chance to reproduce. This “sac roe” fishery is one reason herring are dwindling in numbers; a century of industrial development is another. Now an archealogical study demonstrates the historical “superabundance” of clupea pallasii along the Pacific coast, indicating that an understanding of coastal ecology may help revitalize today’s herring runs. Covering the past 2,500 years at 171 sites in Southeast Alaska, British Columbia and Washington, the review of 500,000 fish bones “shows herring in places where they are not today,” says Madonna Moss, a professor of anthropology at the University of Oregon, one of several institutions participating in the study. The data also demonstrates the historical use of herring as a food fish, suggesting a new context for boosting the dwindling numbers. “Herring are at the foundation of the ecosystem,” says Moss, adding that herring — the fish as well as the roe — remain an important nutrient source for indigenous populations in Canada. “We want to see a commercial fishery,” she says, “but the fish are overexploited.”