Study shows Pacific herring provide a subsidy to coastal ecosystems

For immediate release: January 9, 2014

Sidney, British Columbia: Pacific salmon, described as the backbone of the BC coast, have been shown to significantly influence coastal ecosystems and organisms, including grizzly and spirit bears, wolves, songbirds, insects and ancient conifers. But Pacific salmon aren’t the only fish in the sea. For the first time, researchers at Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the University of Victoria have traced a relationship between spawning Pacific herring and organisms that live way up in the high intertidal zone.

In an article published today in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, lead author, Raincoast biologist and Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Caroline Fox uses fatty acids (lipids) and carbon signatures to trace the movements of Pacific herring at spawn events located in Quatsino Sound, where millions of herring eggs washed up into the intertidal and were subsequently consumed by invertebrates that live in the high intertidal.

Pacific herring are the dominant forage fish in BC and for several decades in the past, were also the BC’s most lucrative commercial fishery. Fueling the coastal foodweb, Pacific herring are prey for a diversity of species including humpback whales, harbour seals, lingcod, salmon and seabirds.  In sometimes massive schools, these migratory fish aggregate and spawn in nearshore and intertidal zones in BC, and elsewhere along the Pacific coast. Overnight, the water turns chalk-white with milt (sperm), females lay sticky eggs onto the substrate and coastal predators like sea lions and Gray whales appear for the annual feast.

While there has been a significant amount of scientific research involving relationships between Pacific herring and marine ecosystems, scientific knowledge of cross-ecosystem relationships between Pacific herring and intertidal and terrestrial systems was almost non-existent, despite anecdotal reports and longstanding indigenous traditional knowledge of these relationships.

This research is the first to document a significant cross-system ecosystem interaction involving Pacific herring and intertidal ecosystems. With recent, significant declines in BC’s Pacific herring, to the extent that 3 of 5 major stocks have been closed to commercial fishing for several years, this research documents the vanishing ecological interactions of a fish species with profound cultural, economic and ecological influence.

“This research not only highlights novel cross-ecosystem interactions that we previously knew nothing about, but it lays the groundwork for ongoing research involving Pacific herring interactions with black bears, gray wolves and sea otters,” says Dr. Caroline Fox.


For more information contact:

Dr. Caroline Fox                                                                                          Dr. Paul Paquet

Postdoctoral Fellow                                                                                   Senior Scientist

Raincoast Conservation Foundation                                                   Raincoast Conservation Foundation

(250) 812 1956 (cell)                                                                                



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