Herring fishing at Togiak in Bristol Bay                                                                                                                               Credit: juneautek                                                 


The state’s largest herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay got underway on Sunday in near gale force winds. A handful of boats, mostly seiners, is competing for a 24,000 ton harvest, up slightly from last year.

By Tuesday the catch samples showed some good roe counts as a percent of body weight.   Tim Sands is regional manager at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game in Dillingham.

“I’ve heard reports that it’s mixed at this point. Some are mature, but not all of them. And that’s typically what we see the first couple days of the fishery. There’s not a lot of mature fish around, but it takes them a couple of days to ripen up once they come into the shallow water.”

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Only the female herring are valued for their eggs and all go to a single customer: Japan. The male fish may be used for meal, if at all.

Togiak fishermen will likely be paid around $100 a ton again for their catches; thus, the low interest in the fishery. Alaska’s herring have been managed for sac roe fisheries since the 1970s when the fish routinely fetched $2,000 or more per ton. But that hasn’t been the case for several decades.

Today, it’s herring as bait that can bring those kind of big bucks – up to $3,000 a ton at Cook Inlet and $550 at Dutch Harbor. Maybe it’s time for the state to make a change –

“Those are regulations that the Board of Fish could modify. If a person came in and said we want to increase this opportunity or provide an additional opportunity for a person to obtain their own bait, that is something the board could take a look at.   And if we are in areas where the harvestable surplus isn’t being taken in the sac roe fishery, why not allow it in a different fishery.”

Forrest Bowers is deputy director of the state commercial fisheries division.  

In most areas, he says Alaska fishermen also can catch herring to use as bait for their own fisheries.

“In most areas there is a provision for people to take herring for bait. In Kodiak, for example, a person can take up to 1,000 pounds of herring per year.”

Thanks to the assist by KDLG/Dillingham.