Herring fishery at Sitka Sound    Credit: Juneau Empire

The roe herring fishery at Sitka Sound ended on April 9 after two weeks of daily fishing. A fleet of about 20 seiners took less than half of the 33,304 ton harvest. State managers estimate the total catch at around 16,000 tons, or 32 million pounds. No word yet on price.

Herring fishing at Kodiak began on April 1, two weeks earlier than usual, due to an earlier spawn across the island’s five fishing districts. Thirteen boats have taken less than half of the 16 million pound harvest limit, the largest ever.

The fish were looking good although the fleet was standing down for a few days until more of the roe ripened, said James Jackson, area manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Kodiak. He added that up to nine tenders also are on the ground and five processors are buying herring.

Word on the docks is that the herring are fetching $300 per ton for fishermen, or about six cents a pound. But with so much herring around, it could add up to a nice pay day.

The earlier start at Kodiak means that more boats could head to Togiak at Bristol Bay when that herring fishery gets underway, usually in early May. It will depend on how many processors show up to buy.

Togiak is Alaska’s largest roe herring fishery, this year with a whopping 42,639 ton harvest, or more than 85 million pounds, the highest since 1993.

Last year only 3 boats and one buyer showed up there for a fishery that ran from May 4 till the 16th when the boats dropped out. The low participation means that all catch data for 2020 is confidential. In 2019, Togiak herring paid out at $75 per ton, or just 4 cents a pound for fishermen.

In 2020, the total Alaska herring harvest of 17.3 million pounds was valued at just under $8 million.

The herring is valued for its roe which goes to a single customer, Japan, where changing tastes and policies have tanked the value for nearly two decades.

The male fish has almost no value and are mostly ground into fish meal or dumped. That’s also the fate of the female fish after their roe is taken. It’s estimated that only 12 percent of Pacific herring is used for human consumption.