By Rhonda Lee McIsaac —
Linang herring in Xaana Kaahlii GawGaay Skidegate Inlet have more nuisances to worry about than being picked on by hungry ts’aag eagles, sk’in seagulls, k’yaaluu cormorants, xuud seals, kay sea lions, kun whales or herring fishers. Haida Fisheries team member, Taaiixou Robert Russ recently checked on k’aaw herring spawn on kelp following reports of activity in the inlet. What he found is of concern to the k’aaw harvest in Xaana Kaahlii GawGaay. Taaiixou found that much of the kelp is covered in gyalaga kelp-encrusting bryozoan. This is a sign of big changes in the waters of Haida Gwaii and ensures that Xaana Kaahlii GawGaay will not be a viable source for herring roe-on-kelp this year.
Gyalaga, also called “moss animal”, is an aquatic organism which is only millimeters in size but forms colonies that can cover kelp and other substrate (any surface on which material can be deposited).
The gyalaga feed on microorganisms, their tiny tentacles catch diatoms and other one-celled organisms drifting in the ocean currents. Their skeleton is rigid and made of calcium carbonate. Guuding.ngaay sea urchin and fish eat the gyalaga and the gyalaga competes with sponges and algae for habitat.
During low tide, Taaiixou said, the intertidal zone is more visible from the skiff and the floating ng.aal giant kelp beds are accessible as they feather in the low water stretching for feet along the top of the glassy water. Along these shores there is also sGiinaaw sea lettuce, more ng.aal beds and stringy algae. Taaiixou was checking the islands of Sgaay.yas Torrens Island and Gud K’aagwas Jewell Island, Kun T’aahlas Kwuna Point and Kaahl Guusda GuuhlGa Kun Haida Point. Gud K’aagwas had a small band of herring spawn in the intertidal zone. Sgaay.yas had a few patches along the shore. Kun T’aahlas had none. Kaahl Guusda GuuhlGa Kun also had no spawn on the ng.aal and was heavily laden with gyalaga.
From the helm of the skiff and with a well trained eye Taaiixou pointed out the small band of herring roe towards the shoreline. He maneuvered closer to take samples of the vegetation and spawn. With the nose of the skiff against the shore line the untrained eye and the camera lens could see the small herring eggs clinging to different vegetation. Spawn was thinly deposited on the rock kelp, the stringy algae and the rock face.
The canopied kelp beds looked like they were coated with herring roe but once you got closer you could see the gyalaga caked on the thin feathery kelp. This explosion of gyalaga in Xaana Kaahlii GawGaay can be attributed to higher water temperatures and the spread of gyalaga can occur with the simple action of a piece breaking off, from wave action, a propeller cut, or being picked and swished about in the water. The gyalaga then adheres to something else and begins reproducing and growing a new colony. The gyalaga reproduces asexually which allows it to settle on to a substrate and begin the process of colonizing an area immediately.
On this outing Taaiixou said that the kelp we were looking at was very young and the beds sparse. In past years, he said, the kelp beds would extend much further out into the bay and cover a larger area. In this location there was also sign of rotten kelp, which turns the kelp whitish and disintegrates in your hand when you handle it. Kelp rots due to warm waters. Ocean temperature has been increasing world-wide and has been monitored locally over the past couple of years by the Haida Fisheries Program.