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Citizen scientist documenting herring comeback

John Buchanan believes herring eggs laid recently are more abundant than last year



Like clockwork, the herring of Howe Sound find their way to shore somewhere around Feb. 1 each year and deposit eggs.

Conservationist and citizen scientist John Buchanan has seen this the last few years through his study of herring in the waters south of Squamish. Motivated by memories of jigging for herring at the tip of Howe Sound as a youth, Buchanan has been documenting the revival of the fish species.

Buchanan has reported that since about 2005 herring have made a significant comeback in Howe Sound after almost completely disappearing when Buchanan was young. He has been watching and documenting the revival by heading out in his boat onto Howe Sound to see where the eggs can be found and how thick the spawn is.

“I think they have increased from last year,” Buchanan said of his observation Feb. 15 on Howe Sound. “It seemed a little thicker and denser. It is so hard to tell because I’m only strictly surface.”

The citizen scientist said he notes the facts – things like water temperature, GPS locations and salt levels then shares his information with organizations like the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

Buchanan’s Feb. 15 research mission took him along the west side of Howe Sound and he reported finding herring eggs along the shore just north of Woodfibre and south of Woodfibre to an area directly across Howe Sound from Britannia. He also found roe at the former Nexen chemical plant site.

Through his work Buchanan said he has learned that a long list of species feed on herring roe. He spotted elk at the shoreline near Woodfibre two years ago feeding on the eggs at low tide.

“As soon as you get a healthy herring population everything benefits,” said Buchanan.

He partially attributes the growing herring population to the return of dolphins and whales to Howe Sound.

Buchanan’s work is being done while the Vancouver Aquarium continues with its ongoing Howe Sound Research Project. Dr. Jeff Marliave has been working with the DFO to study the more than 650 species found in Howe Sound. Work done in the summer by Marliave hinted that native herring might not migrate out to open ocean as previously believed.

Check back for more on this story and in the print edition of Pique on Thursday.