Hunt­ing for her­ring

The Amherst News - - SPECIAL FEATURE - FRAM DIN­SHAW With files from Mark Goudge

It’s 7 p.m. and a fleet of more than 100 fish­ing boats start to make their way to a com­mon ground near Caribou, N.S.

On the Hard Knox the crew has spent two hours pre­par­ing for tonight's fish­ing. Boat owner Scott Fer­di­nand and his crew Matt Wil­son and Dana Richard strive to catch his al­lowance of 15,000 pounds ev­ery night of this fish­ery.

“It was great. We got our load,” said fish­er­man Matt Wil­son.

The fleet of boats from Pug­wash, Toney River, Pic­tou and a small num­ber from Prince Edward Is­land all con­verge in the same area where they made a hand­some catch the pre­vi­ous night.

A del­i­cate dance of boats cir­cling, cruis­ing up and down the area look­ing for good marks on their fish find­ers be­gins. Boats com­ing within feet and inches of each other with a few close calls where quick hands help avoid what could have been col­li­sions.

Then the first lines are set and be­fore long this float­ing city is dot­ted with lanes of boats and net buoys. All the while, crews jockey for the best spot to drop their sets and make their nightly catch.

“You can’t have your nets in the wa­ter be­fore 6 p.m. and you have to get them out by noon the next day,” said Wil­son.

His crew­mates say the her­ring fish­ery busi­ness has been de­clin­ing for the last few years but it is still worth­while to Fer­di­nand and his crew.

In­deed, as the sun rises over the coast, a pur­chaser waits at the dock to buy the catch and sell the prod­uct to Ja­pan. What is left will be used for smok­ing and bait.

Ac­cord­ing to Gov­ern­ment of Nova Sco­tia fig­ures, her­ring catches came to about 45,000 met­ric tonnes worth $16 mil­lion prov­ince-wide in 2014, the lat­est year for which fig­ures are avail­able.

The Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans says that 126,102 tonnes were caught in the At­lantic re­gion as a whole in 2013, its lat­est year for which fig­ures are avail­able. Catches amounted to $46.2 mil­lion.

Pro­cess­ing ca­pac­ity is con­cen­trated in South­west­ern Nova Sco­tia, and her­ring prod­ucts are shipped to mar­kets in Ja­pan, U.S. and the Caribbean na­tions. At­lantic her­ring is used for both food and bait and the catch may be ex­ported smoked, fresh, frozen, pick­led or for their roe.

In Nova Sco­tia, her­ring are har­vested in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, off South­west Nova Sco­tia and the Bay of Fundy us­ing purse seine, gill­net and weir. At­lantic her­ring stocks pop­u­la­tion sizes range from crit­i­cal, cau­tious to healthy.

The fed­eral Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans says that pop­u­la­tion abun­dance of the four south­west Nova Sco­tia her­ring stocks has dropped since 2001. It has not re­cov­ered de­spite re­duced catch lev­els.


Hard Knox crew Matt Wil­son and Dana Richard start rig­ging the nets two hours prior to leav­ing Pic­tou har­bour for the 6 p.m. al­lowed time to drop nets in the her­ring fish­ery.

RIGHT: Her­ring fill the deck of Hard Knox as they empty one of their line sets dur­ing this years her­ring fish­ery off Pic­tou Nova Sco­tia.


The first pull of Hard Knox net sets proves to be a pos­i­tive sign for the start of the evening fish­ery of Pic­tou.


The Hard Knox crew has a Net An­chor re­turned that they had cut free to avoid tear­ing an­other fisher’s net the night be­fore.


Hard Knox crew shake out the nets dur­ing the her­ring fish­ery off Pic­tou.

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