Thousands of dead herring in Annapolis Basin

Jonathan Riley
Published on November 30, 2016

DIGBY, N.S. – Herring are washing up on the shores of the Annapolis Basin by the thousands.

Ted Leighton, a wildlife biology professor, estimates there are 5,000 herring on the beach and floating in the water in front of his property in Smith’s Cove.

“What percentage of the fish is washing up?” he wonders. “Is this one percent, five percent? No one knows. But it’s a lot of fish. What part of St. Mary’s Bay is affected? And now the Annapolis Basin? It could be millions. It could be much more.”

Herring has been washing up in St. Mary’s Bay for over a week now and still we are no closer to understanding what is causing it.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans began investigating Nov. 22 after several reports of dead and dying herring.

[Dead herring washing up on shore of St. Mary’s Bay – DFO investigating, Nov. 22]

Herring have washed up on the shore of the eastern end of St. Mary’s Bay, in Weymouth, through Gilbert’s Cove, the head of St. Mary’s Bay, along the shore to Timpany Lane, Griffin Cove and Sandy Cove.

And then Nov. 29, people started seeing the herring in the Annapolis Basin, on the shores of the Bear River, on the western end of Smith’s Cove, in the Digby harbour area and on beaches on the town’s south end.

Leighton says there are some possible causes that should be easy to test for and then other causes might be harder to determine.

[What’s killing the herring? Checking for a parasitic worm, Nov. 23]

“This amount of mortality doesn’t look like a parasite to me, but that will be easy to determine. It could be some kind of toxic algal bloom, the Gulf of Maine is crazy warm right now. But again DFO will be able to test for all the known marine toxins. If it isn’t one of those easy to test for causes, we may never know.”

Leighton says one catch with the toxic algae suggestion is that we are only seeing one species wash up.

“But we don’t know if herring is the only species dying because we don’t know what is behind this or where it is happening,” he said. “Are other animals washing up in other places? We don’t know.”

Leighton and fellow Universite Ste Anne professor Shawn Craik have dissected some fish and sent some off to the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown for examination.

He says DFO will do a thorough job of testing for the common and most likely causes but the AVC is better set up to investigate a broader range of harder to detect causes.

“If I was going to urge some action, I’d like to see someone get out on the water and try and find out how big a problem this is, how widespread is it, what are we dealing with?” said Leighton.

Gary Hutchins, department supervisor in Digby says they are expecting to hear tomorrow about the results from the first run of DFO tests.

Digby fishery officers collected herring Nov. 23 and sent it to DFO labs in Moncton.