Sea lions feast as high winds close Island herring fishery Monday

Sea lions feast as high winds close Island herring fishery Monday

WATCH: A once-a-year event is transforming the east coast of Vancouver Island into turquoise waters and a hive of activity, as tons of herring return to spawn and create a feeding frenzy among wildlife and fishermen. The herring appeared off Oceanside this weekend and this year, there is more controversy than ever before about fishing them.

The squeal of fishing reels and squawks of gulls carried on the winds over French Creek Monday, captivating onlookers.

“It wasn’t here yesterday and it showed up,” said herring fisherman Bert Levac.

A natural wonder that will be gone within days came in close enough to shore for all to see and get a taste of.

“For 1,500 years Canadians have been catching these things,” said Kevin McMurray, who was fishing with a pole from the rocks of French Creek.

“They only come into a special place.”

The annual herring spawn is a feast from the ocean that draws rafts of hungry sea lions and harbours full of fisherman to vie for it.

“You got 500 fishermen here waiting to get into one little area,” said Bert Levac, from Campbell River.

But this year, controversy around the impact of fishing boats on the environment and animals has many coastal residents including Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns calling for an all-out closure on the fishery. The backlash picked up after a video of a man throwing an explosive at sea lions off the B.C. coast was posted online. 

“We do hope that the government will do the right thing and close the fishery immediately,” said Johns.

The fishery wasn’t open Monday despite the herring’s appearance, due to the high winds that would have made it too dangerous for boats.

“It’s cold but it’s amazing,” said tourist Chantelle St. Denis as she looked on.

“You’ll never see anything like it again.”

So the catches of the day went to photographers, sea lions and the daring fishermen perched on the rocks in the winds.

“For a first timer this is as good as it gets,” said Kevin McMurray.

“This is exciting.”

Weather permitting, French Creek’s harbour is expected to be full of boats on Tuesday that will join in on the herring harvest.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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