Herring fishery at Sitka Sound
              Credit: Juneau Empire

Sitka Sound always kicks off Alaska’s roe herring fisheries – this year starting with a three hour and 20 minute opener on March 19 that yielded 3,500 tons. . That followed with a 15 minute opener on the 22nd, bringing the total catch to about half of the 14,600 ton quota.  By all accounts the fish were plentiful and looking good. The herring are valued for their roe as a percentage of body weight – the Sitka fish were averaging good roe counts of 11 to 12%. Another opener could occur on Friday.

A herring pound fishery could be the next to go near Craig. Fishermen can catch 349 tons this year and put them in enclosures called pounds. The structures contain blades of kelp to hold the herring spawn and sold to Asian markets.

No word yet on any other Southeast roe herring fisheries.

Kodiak’s herring season begins in mid-April. The harvest this year is limited to 1,645 tons. State managers said they expect an uptick in the herring biomass of mostly younger, 3-5 year old fish. Thus,  the smaller quota.

Alaska’s biggest herring fishery occurs in May at Togiak in Bristol Bay. The harvest this year is pegged at about 30,000 tons, based on best estimates by managers.  Money for herring management for all areas but Sitka Sound was zeroed out in the state budget two seasons ago.  That has eliminated sampling  necessary to estimate stock abundance and age classes.

Fish and Game’s area manager, Tim Sands, summed up the problem last year.

 For us the bigger impact is that we can’t produce a forecast for Togiak herring next year because we didn’t do the sampling.   The data gap will cycle through our whole population estimate. Even if we were to start sampling again next year, Togiak herring live up to 12 plus years age classes so we’ll have that gap for 8 years at least.

Just to open the fishery, processors Silver Bay, Trident, North Pacific and Icicle Seafoods each put in $2,500 to cover costs of aerial surveys.

Just to open the fishery and manage it we need aerial surveys to find out when the fish show up. We have threshold biomass we are supposed to document before we open the fishery and that requires flying and looking at the area.