Friday, April 2, 2010

Harbingers of Spring

Can anybody else only think of Starbuck when they use the word harbinger? Yeah, well I am an isolated nerd who watches a lots of DVDs. On to an actual harbinger.

It is spring here in the great Southeast Alaska which means erratic weather and herring. Our weather goes from snowy to sunny and back to rain in the space of 2 hours. This is both strangely beautiful and downright irritating. I've been waiting for my garden to dry out enough to turn it over, but the weather is thwarting me. Mostly, the weather can't make up its mind and folks around here call that equinox weather.

Spring brings life back to our dreary little corner of 'Merica. It comes on the back of herring. Mid march Sitka Sound begins to fill up with sea lions and whales feeding on the huge schools of herring waiting to spawn. They are the first batch of spawning fish we get to meet then we have euchalon, steelhead, kings/chinook, sockeyes/reds, pinks/humpys, chum/dogs, then cohos/silvers. Everybody needs to reproduce and they seem like they're in such a rush during the sunny months.

Like every other thing that swims in our sea it has a multimillion dollar commercial fishery built on it. Herring politics are only slightly better than halibut politics around here, but you don't care about that. You want to know how they fish for the little silver buggers. Well, they seine for them. Seining is where you have a big boat and a little boat with a net stretched between them. The little boat zips around a school of fish and ties off to the big boat. Then net is closed and the school is hauled on board.

Seining for herring (from the Juneau empire)

Sometimes the herring will dive to the bottom (PANIC!) and the boat will roll severely. Remember that scene in Finding Nemo where they have that school of fish work together to beat the eeevil fisherman and the day is saved? That really happens.

The openings (times where the state deems it legal to fish) used to be about 15 minutes long and boats used to team up/ally where one boat actually fishes and the others ram other boats out of the way. Combat fishing, they called it. Now the openings are 2-3 hours long so the excitement of battle isn't really there anymore.

Hauling in a seine full of herring. (From national geographic).

Also, each group of boats or teams of boats have a spotter plane over head. When I went out the road last Thursday to watch, I counted 11 planes working above about 47 boats. Also, a film helicopter and the Coasty helicopter were buzzing about. It was a sight. I took pictures but the were of the far-away variety and not that great.

Herring are also a primary fertilizer for the local gardens. You can read about it here. What's spring like where you live?


  1. Very cool post--thanks for sharing!

  2. The area shot of the seining is great! Yes, very cool post!!!

  3. 1. yes, i can only think of starbuck when the word harbinger appears. oh starbuck, the cutest, bad-assest harbinger of death ever.

    2. neat to hear about the herring seining.

    3. spring is about the same in san diego as other parts of the year. though this el nino year, it's far rainier than typical. :)

  4. Carin! Glad to find out about all the other Battlestar fans out there.