The Sitka Sound herring fishery appears to be a no-go, which would be only the second time in the fishery’s 43-year history.
The fishery has been on two-hour notice for nearly three weeks, and no fishing has taken place. On top of that, many seiners and tenders have left, no one is volunteering to do test fishing, and the research vessel that was brought in to do that test fishing when the seiners stood down has left.
Last season the Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed the fishery after harvesting only 3,000 tons of the 13,000-ton quota because the fish were too small to be marketable and the roe content below what processors want. That appears to be the problem again this year.
This year the quota was raised dramatically, to nearly 23,000 tons.
The lack of commercial harvest undoubtedly comes as good news to the Sitka Tribe, which has been protesting the fishery for years.
This year they mounted a publicity campaign and sued ADF&G and the Board of Fisheries for mismanagement of the fishery, saying that the harvest level should be set at 10 percent of the biomass, not the current 20 percent used.
The group says that managers do not give enough consideration to needs of subsistence users, and that herring spawn covers only a fraction of the coastline compared with previous years. They began protesting management more than 20 years ago.
Herring return to spawn for up to seven years, each year growing larger depending upon ocean conditions. It takes fish at least 5-years-old to reach the size and roe maturity that processors want.
In spite of the narrowing window to execute the fishery, ADF&G Area Management Biologist Eric Coondradt told Sitka Public Radio last week that some seiners, tenders and processors are hanging on just in case.
He said that was not necessarily in vain.
“I feel like there’s still time left,” he said. “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.”
The latest a commercial herring fishery has been opened was in 2002, when a second biomass of fish entered Sitka Sound and was targeted between April 12 and April 15.
Cristy Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org