Hunting for herring
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.