West coast herring expeditions
The spring Pacific herring spawn is one of nature’s great wildlife spectacles. It may be less known than the annual salmon runs the west coast is famous for, but it attracts a profusion of marine and terrestrial predators alike. I have teamed up with Seaforth Expeditions to offer the only multi-day tour of this remarkable event on the remote west coast of Vancouver Island. This is the perfect way to shake off the winter cobwebs by immersing yourself in some of Mother Nature’s finest work.
March 8-14, 2024
Trip departure point
Campbell River, British Columbia
About Pacific herring
Pacific herring are one of the most abundant fish in British Columbian waters and a critical part of marine ecosystems. Each spring, tens of thousands of tonnes of herring move from offshore to coastal waters to spawn. While the females lay their eggs in the intertidal vegetation and rocks, the male’s milt (or sperm) turns the waters a tropical turquoise colour – sometimes for kilometers of coastline. Inevitably, the fish and their eggs attract hungry predators. On land, predators like wolves and bears congregate to feed on the rich eggs that are revealed at low tide. In the ocean, dozens of grey and humpback whales, and hundreds of sea lions and seals join in on the feast. In some years congregations of marine birds (eagles, loons, ducks, gulls, shorebirds and more) can number in the hundreds of thousands. Resident sea otters can be found in the midst of it all foraging for shellfish and herring eggs alike.
Once the largest commercial fishery in the province, the catches of Pacific herring used to exceed those from all five species of salmon combined. First Nations up and down the coast have harvested herring for millennia using sustainable spawn-on-kelp and spawn-on-hemlock practices. These methods allow people to harvest the eggs sustainably while letting the adult fish – which can spawn up to 10 times during their lifetime – to spawn again.
Expected trip highlights
On this trip, it is possible to see and photograph wonderful diversity of west coast wildlife including sea otters, gray whales, black bears, wolves, Stellar and California sea lions, harbour seals, and a whole host of marine birds, as well as the gorgeous seascapes of the west coast. Of course, we have also planned the trip specifically to maximize our chances of witnessing the herring spawn itself.
$7150 + GST (Canadian dollars)
Payment by cheque or wire transfer is preferred. For credit card payments, please add 2.9%
Included: Vehicle shuttle between Campbell River and Zeballos, boat transport to Zeballos and our cabin. All food (prepared by an excellent cook), lodging, boat transportation and guiding services upon arrival at cabin.
Not included: travel to/from Campbell River and any necessary food and accommodations in Campbell River.
A $2000 deposit is required to secure a spot on this trip with full payment due Feb 1st (see cancellation policy in FAQs below)
ARRIVAL IN CAMPBELL RIVER:
We strongly recommend that guests arrive in Campbell River on March 7th and spend the night at the Comfort Inn before departing to Zeballos early the following afternoon (March 8). See Trip Itinerary below.
Pacific Coastal Airlines has flights from Vancouver to Campbell River on March 7 at 17:30. Another option is Central Mountain Air which has a flight from Vancouver to Campbell River on March 7 at 16:50.
RETURN TO CAMPBELL RIVER AND DEPARTURE FOR HOME
We plan to be back in Campbell River mid-afternoon on March 14th. Guests who wish to fly to Vancouver that evening can take the 18:50 flight with Pacific Coastal Airlines, or the 17:55 flight with Central Mountain Air. Those wishing to spend the night in Campbell River can fly to Vancouver the following morning at 08:55 with Pacific Coastal.
Guests must understand that the weather is always out of our control and may interfere with our plans and departure times.
Each day we will spend full days in the field to maximize opportunities for wildlife encounters. We will be in communication with Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s herring survey pilot, as well as a test fishery crew, to maximize our chances of encountering the herring spawn and all the other wildlife in the area.
It is recommended that guests arrive in Campbell River and spend the night at the Comfort Inn.
Guests enjoy a casual morning in Campbell River.
Here is an approximate schedule for the rest of the day, which may change depending on the weather etc:
- 1:oo pm: All guests meet at Comfort Inn and prepare for departure to Zeballos.
- 4:00 pm: arrival in Zeballos
- 5:00 pm: arrival at cabin. Guests will get settled and be given an orientation and refreshments. Weather and time permitting, we will head out into the field for a short evening wildlife-scouting excursion before returning to the cabin for dinner at the end of the day.
To maximize the chances of wildlife encounters, we will rise early for breakfast so we can have a full day out in the field. Wildlife viewing each day will be from a boat and/or from shore depending on weather and tides and where the best opportunities are on any particular day.
We will typically pack a lunch and stay out in the field for as long as we have daylight. If we have days with challenging weather, we may return to the cabin for lunch and to warm up. At the end of the day, we will return to the cabin for an excellent evening meal and relaxation.
In the morning, we will have one more session on the water before departing the cabin for Zeballos by 12:30 pm. Our expected arrival in Campbell River will be 3:30 pm, in time to catch the evening flight to Vancouver at 5:45 pm for those wishing to do so.
Immerse yourself in the wild west coast
Frequently asked questions
How many guests are on each trip?
This is an exclusive trip with just five guests
Are we guaranteed to witness the herring spawn?
No. Herring spawning events can occur numerous times over the course of a 6-week period in the early spring, and the timing of the spawn is impossible to know for certain. However, as mentioned earlier, we have access to the very best information on the herring spawn in our area from the Fisheries and Oceans Canada survey and test fisheries crew. We will be in regular contact with them to maximize our chances of success.
Regardless of when the spawn actually happens, other wildlife will be congregating in anticipation of the herring.
Will we be taking photographs from a boat or from shore?
Both, depending on the weather, tides, and whatever method provides the best opportunities.
What level of fitness is required?
Guests need a moderate to good level of fitness and balance for these trips. During boat landings, we are rarely at a dock and you must be mobile enough to scramble off the bow of a boat onto uneven and slippery shorelines. We don’t have to hike up any steep hills, but sometimes we may have to walk considerable distances on soft and uneven gravel beaches, which can be tiring. Please contact Tim if you have concerns, and we can discuss whether this trip is right for you.
What are our chances of seeing and photographing wolves?
Wolves are never a sure thing – which is why trying to photograph them is such an adventure. However, the herring spawn is a strong attraction for wolves, which stacks the odds in our favour. We know from previous experience that wolves frequent this particular area. After that, it is all about timing – the wolves’ timing. In past years, there was a pack of seven wolves in the vicinity of our cabin. At times they were seen for several days in a row, and at times they would disappear for a week before returning.
Although everybody wants to see and photograph wolves – and we will do everything we can to give you the very best opportunities of success – guests should understand that there are never any guarantees. What makes this trip special are the opportunities to watch and photograph a large diversity of species attracted by the herring spawn. Even if the wolves do not cooperate, you’ll have the opportunity to watch and photograph many other species.
What are the accommodations like?
Accommodations will be in a small cozy cabin. It could be described as “basic, but comfortable.” The cabin is warm and dry with a wood stove and a living room to relax in after a day in the wild. The best part is that cabin is in extremely close proximity to great wildlife photography locations. In some years the herring have spawned within a 5-minute boat ride from the cabin.
Depending on the number of single travellers versus couples booked on the trip, some guests may need to share a room with another traveller of the same gender. Bedrooms are very small, but they work. The bathroom is shared – there are no ensuites. We will provide you with more details about the accommodations for those who inquire.
What kind of weather can we expect?
While much of Canada is still in the grips of winter in March, it is early spring on Vancouver Island and much milder than in the rest of the country. There is typically still snow on the mountains, but not at sea level. Weather can be calm, cool, and clear, or it can be windy, rainy, cold, and stormy. In other words, guests need to be prepared for all kinds of weather. Temperatures vary from 3 Celsius in the morning if we get a cold snap to a balmy 15 degrees Celsius on nice days (36 to 60 F). But regardless of the weather, there will always be a warm dry cabin with a wood stove to come back to each day.
What kind of clothing will I need to be comfortable each day?
As a first step, guests will want to dress in layers starting with a good pair of thermal long underwear on top and bottom, followed by warmer layers and wind/waterproof outer layers such as Gore-Tex to protect you from wind, cold and rain. All guests will receive a detailed packing list to assist with gear decisions.
Can I bring a drone?
Yes. The herring spawn offers incredible photo and video opportunities with a drone. However, there may be some restrictions on where and how they can be used for safety, and to ensure wildlife are not harassed.
Is this strictly a photography tour or workshop?
No. People who want to come to view wildlife without taking photos are most welcome. However, most of our guests do like to take photos, so our approach is focussed on maximizing photo opportunities. The west coast of Vancouver Island has endless opportunities for great photography, which means it is also a great place to just take it all in without a camera if that is your preference.
What about Waivers, Medical Forms and Travel Insurance?
To secure your spot on a trip, waivers and medical forms must be completed when you pay your deposit. It is a simple process that takes 5 minutes. It is also mandatory that tour participants purchase independent trip cancellation insurance that includes remote evacuation coverage to protect against any unforeseen circumstance.
Are cell communications and wifi available?
There is no cell phone reception. Limited Wifi is available for comunications. Your guides will have communication devices (Satellite phone and inReach units) in case of an emergency.
What is your cancellation policy?
All deposits and payments are non-refundable, unless, upon cancellation, we are able to fill your spot. If we can fill your spot, we will refund you in full.
What about gratuities for the crew?
There are no expectations around tips. However, for those who would like to provide a gratuity, 5-10% of your trip price is a reasonable guideline.