Hundreds if not thousands of tons of herring spawned in the Mamquam Blind Channel in the 1960’s. This mass of herring in turn fed salmon, cod, birds, sea mammals and humans, who could easily scoop up a bucket of herring at will. Life thrived in Howe Sound in those days. This ended by the 1970’s with the industrial development of the Mamquam Blind Channel. It was assumed that the lack of herring meant that the herring had moved elsewhere to spawn.
The development of Squamish Terminals (SQT) in 1972 opened new spawning areas for herring which had been in decline in the area for many years. Bladder wrack seaweed growing in the newly placed riprap along the Terminal shoreline allowed some herring to spawn successfully (pictured above). However, most of the herring sought the more protected and quiet area to spawn under the East dock. The dock was constructed in the traditional style of the time with pilings that were treated with creosote to protect them from marine borers that would attack wooden structures in the ocean waters. The creosote unfortunately and unknowingly killed the herring eggs laid upon the pilings.
In 2006, the Squamish Streamkeepers were checking the net pens that SQT put in to aid salmon enhancement and stumbled onto dead herring eggs on the creosote pilings under the East dock. Since this time, with support from Squamish Terminals, Department of Fisheries & Oceans, and Telus, the Squamish Streamkeepers have been wrapping pilings (pictured below) under Squamish Terminals’ protective East and West docks to improve herring spawning habitat (for a more detailed history on how this project came to be, visit www.sqterminals.com/community/involvement/squamish-streamkeepers).
Because of this partnership, the Howe Sound herring run is seeing positive results with millions of eggs hatching out each year and juvenile herring schools have been observed leaving Howe Sound for the open sea. Various wildlife has been found feeding in Howe Sound and are believed to be benefiting from the return of the herring. In fact, in March 2014 we had a spectacular day when the entire community had an opportunity to witness hundreds of dolphins and about 30 orcas patrolling Howe Sound for their respective food sources; and it all starts with the herring.
With this in mind, the Streamkeepers continue to look for ways to enhance and expand the herring spawning area under the Terminal’s docks as well as other areas. The Streamkeepers took their model to False Creek for a spawning experiment, which was also successful. Each wrapped piling has the potential to hatch out about one million herring eggs, two times per year, for the next 80 years which should help expand the upper Howe Sound herring stocks for decades to come. With the expanding herring run there is the strong likelihood of more dolphins and orcas in the future.
Today there is a 450 foot long float line and about 100 concrete pilings under the West dock that have been wrapped by Streamkeepers volunteers. The wrapped pilings are intertidal and after the herring eggs laid on these pilings hatch out, the ups and downs of the tides and slapping of the waves soon clean the herring glue and egg cases off. The pilings get re-spawned two to three times from late January and into early April, with the majority of spawn in February and March.
UPDATE (MAY 2016): On May 23, 2016 the Squamish Streamkeepers pulled the float lines out from under the West dock and believe that there have been three spawns between late January and early March. Based on samples taken from the float lines, the Streamkeepers estimate that there were at least 65 million eggs and that the hatch rate was only 40%, likely due to strong currents dispersing the sperm. The next spawn is not expected to happen until mid-January 2017.
For more information or to see how you can get involved, visit the Squamish Streamkeepers online at squamishstreamkeepers.org.
Contributed by Dr. Jonn Matsen, Co-Chair and Herring Coordinator, Squamish Streamkeepers