|Pacific herring roe (Herring School)|
Pacific Herring Past, Present and Future will show you why herring is important in the ecosystem, in culture, in the economy— and how climate, harvest and habitat determine the species’ future.
“Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii) is a small, but hugely important fish to the ecology and the cultures of the Pacific coast. Fish, sea mammals, and birds rely on this fish and its eggs for food. For thousands of years, this once abundant fish has been central to the social, cultural, and economic relations of coastal indigenous communities.”
Atlantic herring are found in the historical record going back 3,000 years. Called “forage fish” by some, females lay masses of herring eggs on kelp and sea grasses in the nearshore and males fertilize the eggs en mass often turning the water white. Different stocks of herring spawn at different times of the year in customary areas.
Nature’s fecundity ensures that enough eggs and fry survive to provide what must seem like an inexhaustible supply of fish for birds, larger fish, marine mammals, humans— and further reproduction. A Pacific herring can live for 19 years.
Being around in abundance for as long as they have, herring have provided every coastal culture with something to eat. My wife worked as a reporter covering the monthly meeting of the Poulsbo Chamber of Commerce at Viking House and how the luncheon smorgasbord was festooned with many varieties of pickled and preserved herring.
Special foods marks the Japanese New Year’s Day meal and one acquired a taste for (or at least tolerated) herring roe, kazunoko, symbolizing fertility for the coming year. More recently available and more palatable is the prevalence of herring eggs on seaweed, komochi kombu.
Then there’s kippered herring (split, gutted and cold smoked) and bloaters (whole gutted and cold smoked) and buckling herring (whole, gutter apart and hot smoked. (Wikipedia/herring/food)
There’s Filipino dried herring, Swedish herring soup, and Tilingit herring eggs collected on hemlock boughs during the spawn and boiled and eaten plain or in herring salad. Nigel Slater gets fancy with Swedish matjes (soused herring) and Jamie Oliver cooks herring linguine.
I’d gone salmon fishing once, cutting perfect plugs from frozen salmon but managing to catch nothing. I went home and, not wanting to waste the bait, fried it and ate it.
Like the orca whale, we’re at the top of the food chain supposedly eating down to the bottom. But I learned that herring, too, feeds down, growing up feeding on plankton like copepods, tiny crustaceans swimming the world’s oceans. And I learned that ocean acidification dissolves crustacean shells. No herring food, no herring, pickled or otherwise; no herring roe, no fertility, no fecundity.