Herring at Sitka Sound is still a waiting game in a fishery that’s usually come and gone by late March.
Many seiners and tenders left on March 28, reported KCAW, along with the state research vessel Kestrel that does fish sampling.
Biologist Eric Coonradt is with ADF&G in Sitka –
“With very little test setting going on, I felt like it was a waste of time to have the Kestrel here for minimal test setting.”
Most of the herring, which are valued only for their eggs or roe, have so far been too immature to open a fishery.
By Wednesday more than 21 miles of herring spawn had been mapped. That usually signals the beginning of the end for a fishery, but spotters are still flying and Coonradt says and some seiners and processors are sticking around.
“I feel like there’s still time left. We still have the ability to find fish, if the fish kind of split up, larger versus smaller fish. But some years they don’t do that. So it’s just kind of a wait and see game.”
Seiners were hoping to haul in nearly 13,000 tons of roe herring after a total bust of a fishery last year.
KCAW said Sitka Sound’s latest herring fishery was April 15 in 2002. The last time there was no commercial fishery there was in 1977.
Meanwhile, Alaska’s largest roe herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay is expecting a big run and an earlier start as soon as mid-April.
Fish and Game area manager Tim Sands told KDLG in Dillingham that unusually warm waters are making it tough to predict run timing.
“This year there’s no ice anywhere near Bristol Bay as a whole. Sea surface temperatures are much warmer. We have a couple different models – one based on sea ice coverage and one based on sea surface temperature. Those models worked relatively well when conditions were normal. But we’re so far from normal this year, we don’t have a lot of faith in the predictive ability of our models.”
Budget cuts and a lack of aerial surveys for three years also have also contributed to the uncertainty. Sands says the data deficits has caused a more conservative approach to the Togiak fishery.
“We kind of retroactively introduced this idea of reducing the exploitation rate by 2 percent a year for years of poor data.”
Togiak has a herring catch quota of 26,930 tons this year, up slightly from 2018.