Fish feeding-frenzy draws animals, big crowds to White Rock Pier

For more than a decade, Janeen Grant has worked at  the restaurant Charlie Don't Surf on the White Rock, B.C., waterfront and she's never seen anything like this.

An incredible number of tiny fish, believed to be northern anchovies, have been swimming around the pier for the last few weeks, creating a feeding frenzy for predators outside her restaurant.

"Today we've had a bunch of sea lions outside," she said recently.

"Like big, giant sea lions."

Harbour seals and several species of birds are also flocking to the pier to feast on fish, attracting large crowds of onlookers and photographers.

Marg Cuthbert, president of Friends of Semiahmoo Bay Society, says young anchovies have schooled near the pier in the past, but it's hard to say why there are so many of them this year.

"This is just a blurb that's come up, like one year we had a huge salmon run," she said. "It happens every once in a while but nobody really knows the answer why."

Christian Amundson/CBC

Habitat restoration

Friends of Semiahmoo Bay has spent nearly 20 years mapping and even transplanting eelgrass, often at its own expense, along the shoreline between Boundary Bay and Drayton Harbor in Blaine, Wash.

The grass meadows provide a home for many types of fish, including northern anchovies, herring and surf smelt, until they're big enough to go out to sea.

"We've been fortunate to see some spawning success this year with the schools of fish down at the pier," she said.

"This is exciting the seals and gulls and sea lions."

However, Cuthbert says fishing and a loss of habitat have caused spawning numbers of forage fish like northern anchovies to drop, which also has consequences for predators, such as salmon, that rely on smaller fish for food.

She would like to see the provincial and federal government pay for some of the restoration work her organization currently covers through fundraising.

"I think that these are the most important grass meadows in British Columbia," she said. "Why are government agencies not doing that work?"