‘Deafening Silence’ on Herring Loss: Harbour Manager


The 40-foot landing craft that sank in the Mamquam Blind Channel, spilling oil into Howe Sound. McNenery says the local environmentalists have maintained a curious silence over the herring affected by the oil.
Photo: Gagandeep Ghuman

By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: Nov. 22, 2013

The Harbour Authority of Squamish manager is questioning the ‘deafening silence’ of councillors and environmentalists over an oil spill that he believes affected the  herring spawn this March.

“Even the dogs quit licking the eggs from the piling due to the coating of oil on them.” McNenery said.

On March 19 this year, a 40-foot landing craft sank in the Mamquam Blind Channel, spilling oil into the water.

The extent of the oil spill isn’t known, but it was reported to have covered large portions of the water surface in both marinas.

Smaller oil sheens on the water surface were also observed by an environmental consulting company, Balanced Environmental, in later field trips.

Harbour manager Bill McEnery says the oil wiped out the largest herring spawn he has seen in several years, but the local government and environmentalists have maintained a curious silence on the issue.

“Even the dogs quit licking the eggs from the piling due to the coating of oil on them,” he said.

McEnery said he hasn’t heard as much as a ‘peep’ from the local government, the department of fisheries, the streamkeepers, or the local environmental watch dog, John Buchanan.

“Doesn’t anyone care about the loss of this herring spawn,” he said.

Several studied done in the 1990s have confirmed that oil can have a destructive effect on the herring.

Two studies conducted locally indicate the possibility of such an effect of the March oil spill, but hesitate to draw a conclusive link.

A study by the above mentioned Balanced Environmental Services Inc. indicated that the spill could be a ‘contributing factor’ in herring mortality.

Another study, albeit with a different purpose, hints at the possibility that the spill could have affected the herring.

Cascade Environmental conducted a study to determine the spawning activity this spring to see if the dredging of the channel could take place.

Mike Nelson said some ‘moribund’ eggs were observed on the wrapped creosote piles on Government wharf.

On the opposite bank, only spawned out egg sacs were observed, that is no herring mortalities.

Nelson said he wouldn’t speculate if the spill caused this.

“Without knowing the location of the spill, and the extent of the spread of any slick (if any), I wouldn’t speculate,” he said.

Another study conducted by Balanced Environmental Services Inc., on behalf of the Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), states that herring embryo mortality rates were observed to be ‘significantly’ higher than average rates expected under natural circumstance.

The study, however, doesn’t make a definite connection between the oil spill and the herring mortality.

“The extent of the deleterious harm caused to the remaining viable embryos…is unknown,” says the report.

Jack Cooley from the Squamish Streamkeepers Society said he agreed that the spill was more damaging that he thought, but was still sceptical to the extent to which it could have caused damage.

“It might have done some damage, but it’s not like we were silent on purpose,” he said.