Friday, December 3, 2021
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HomeFeatureLiving Well: Red Herrings, Verna Isbister

Living Well: Red Herrings, Verna Isbister

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Red HerringReading a good book is a great way to get through these cold, February days. I love a mystery novel. My goal is to discover whodunit well before the conclusion. It’s a challenge to work through the clues and solve the puzzle of who is guilty of a crime or murder.

Years ago, I began reading the mystery novels of Dorothy L. Sayers. Dorothy was known as one of the “first feminist mystery novelists” and founded a group called the Detective Club. She was friends of the Inklings, which included J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Her detective protagonist, Peter Wimsey, and his mystery writing friend, Harriet Vane, filled many hours of my reading.

With all of the news and anticipation of the herring season, I was reminded of one of Sayer’s books called Five Red Herrings. Being a mystery aficionado, I was intrigued by the phrase “red herrings”. What does it mean? There are references to “red herring” as far back as 1250 in a poem by Walter Bibbesworth, “He etep no ffyssh But Heryng re.” A 1420 reference mentions the salting and smoking of herring, which turns the fish a red colour. In 1686 there is another reference to the red herrings being dragged over a trail to distract the hounds and throw them off the scent. In 1782, there is a reference to the “red-herring scent of American taxation” or the stink of raising taxes. Rubbing a red-herring across one’s clothing saved many a fugitive from capture by leading the hounds in a different direction.

Today, we use the term “a red herring” to refer to something or someone who throws us off the track of solving the real issue. When watching our British detective shows on Netflix, we must sort through the misleading clues and characters to figure out who is the real culprit.

So how can we solve this problem of overfishing our herring stocks? Is it that big of a mystery? Many people feel that maintaining the 20% harvest rate is a crime against this resource and are seeking a moratorium. Smoked red herring or smoke screens are used to divert our attention. We could call this mystery, Who Killed the Herring? The red herrings, the distractors, in the mystery could be: climate change, changes in the ocean, the orcas, seals and sea-lions, First Nations rights and promises, claims that the situation has recovered or is recovering, scientific formulas, the fishing industry, etc…

School of Herring

In the end, many conclude that Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) are the ones who have “dunnit” “through mismanagement, wasteful practises and poor planning.” Tony Pilcher an Aquatic Ecosystems scientist was quoted in a Stephen Hume March 2019 article, “The failure of fisheries science … is creating both trauma and denial Among its practitioners … These failures are chronic and well-documented and are commonly responded to by many of our colleagues in a range of voices that seek to deflect and deny.”

“Deflect and deny” smells like words for red-herrings.

Admittedly, I’m not an expert on the issue but rather an Island observer. I’ve witnessed the yearly herring fishery in full operation. Day and night, we’ve watched and listened to the staccato grinding of the cranks dragging the herring into the boats and seen the waste. One of the real tragedies is that the male herring are ground up for pet food, fertilizer and food for Atlantic salmon farms (which is prohibited by the Canada’s Fisheries Act 31 (1), without Ministerial authorization) and 12% of the herring, the “sac-roe”, are sold to Japan for kazunko, a marinated roe delicacy because the Japanese herring population has been destroyed.

Meanwhile the Indigenous people lament the loss of this food and broken promises disregarding their fishing rights. The chinook salmon, whales, sea-lions, seals and seabirds are being affected by the loss of this food source. The fishery has been shut down in three out of five places on our coast and around the world. Iceland, Norway, Russia, Japan and Alaska have depleted and closed their herring fisheries. It seems a crying shame not to better protect the herring in our channel. The DFO must look back at these world-wide closures and look forward and protect the Pacific coast herring. The DFO should be doing everything in their power to protect and showcase this natural wonder.

Instead of hearing the growl of the herring nets being hoisted day and night, I’d rather hear the orcas blowing, the seals barking and the seabirds calling. This may be the last place on earth where people can come and witness this amazing sight. May the words, “the herring
have arrived”, become a celebration rather than an antiquated reference in some history book.

We do thank the Association for Denman Island Marine Stewards and Conservancy Hornby Island for keeping this issue at the forefront and for the Islanders who have organized this year’s letter writing campaign and last year’s protest at Boyle Point.

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