As light ebbed from the cobalt evening sky, I thought not about the damp bangs, pasted to my forehead by the humid, post-storm air, or the inky darkness that began to envelope us. Instead, my attention was solely focused on the gentle whir of the cast net as it sailed through the air, its splash as it met its mark on the Choptank River and the notion that this might be one of the coolest, weirdest Friday nights I’ve had in a while.
I try not to talk about work a lot on here, but every now and then I'm just so thankful or blown away by an experience that I can't stop myself. Friday was one of those experiences. Spring is spawning season for migratory fish, and once the water starts to warm up a bit, herring, shad and other migratory fish begin to make their way up rivers along the coast looking for a little loving.
When the guys from Maryland DNR asked if I wanted to come help collect herring eggs [to grow baby (technically fry) herring to stock other rivers], how could I say no?
Standing along the banks of the Choptank, we cast about on the hunt for the elusive female herring whose eggs were ripe. The window can be incredibly narrow; also, it was really hard to type the word 'ripe'. We fished this 25-foot section of the river for more than three hours and only found two females who were ready to get down. The male herring were plentiful.
What came next was far more ritualistic (even spiritual) than the laboratory exercise I imagined. I kept thinking I'd be taught some kind of fertility chant (I wasn't). Seated on nearby rocks and lit by headlights on the state truck, both roe and sperm were milked from the few herring collected and combined in a stainless steel vessel. One of the guys stirred this strange mixture with a turkey feather while river water and a special powder were added. This process continued until only the fertilized eggs remained in the river water. These were moved to their new nursery (aka a sealed plastic bag and cooler-type contraption) and immediately driven by a third member of the team to their temporary home at one of the state hatcheries.
As I watched the truck speed away, I couldn’t help but feel even more alive, maybe even a bit more womanly (yes, a little odd). I silently bid these new little herring farewell and promised to keep fighting to make their new home in the Patapsco River as hospitable as possible.