Herring are getting a little help in False Creek, south of Vancouver's downtown peninsula, where conservationists say creosote-treated pilings have wreaked havoc with hatchlings.

"The herring are not intelligent enough to realize that creosote pilings are deadly toxic," said Jonn Matsen of Squamish Streamkeepers Society.

"They see a nice clean smooth surface and lay their eggs on there ...virtually all of them die."

So Matsen and others wrap pilings with a material that blocks creosote leakage.


Herring numbers have decreased exponentially in the past 100 years, and conservationists are looking for ways to rebuild stocks. (CBC)

Matsen has had success with rejuvenating herring stock in Howe Sound and hopes to do the same for the False Creek population.

"We wrapped all the pilings here in False creek and now we're trying to find a way to get an improved survival rate. We're getting 50 per cent survival rate but our goal is to get 100 per cent survival rate," said Matsen.

​'Everything likes herring, from people up through the food chain.' - Jonn Matsen, Squamish Streamkeepers

Matsen said the herring haul used to top 20,000 tonnes in the early 1900s, falling to a paltry 200 tonnes in recent years.

Jonn Matsen

Jonn Matsen holds up a net secured off docks in the water to give herring a safe, clean place to lay eggs. (CBC)

His group also plants nets off False Creek docks giving the fish a clean, safe surface to lay eggs. The docks are coated with roe — the tiny eggs.

Matsen says his passion for the silver schooling fish stems from his memories of being a child and seeing massive herring shoals.

"I remember seeing yellow goop on the pilings, and later realized these were dead herring eggs," he said.

​"Everything likes herring, from people up through the food chain."

That means if next year's hatch is as successful as he predicts, the popular fish will nourish and attract other sea animals.

False Creek piling

Pilings like this one in False Creek are coated with creosote to prevent rotting, but the substance proves toxic to herring roe. (CBC)