Participation, prices expected to be higher in this year’s Togiak herring fishery

Togiak herring is expected to get off to a fairly normal start time-wise, after a record early start last year when spawning herring were spotted April 14 and boats scrambled to make it in time.

As of last weekend no herring had been spotted, and there was still some shore ice. Water temperatures hovered around 32 degrees.

Boats headed to Togiak reported seeing schools of fish, presumably herring, on their sounders, about 20 miles from Hagemeister Island. Those schools were accompanied by predators.

A spotter pilot reported no herring, but said the ice was breaking up and dispersing with the tide. There also was increased seabird activity.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game area management biologist Tim Sands told KDLG radio that he prefers water temperature readings taken in Unalaska.

“That model is projecting that we should see fish May 4, and first spawn May 5, so somewhere in that first week of May, maybe … late first week, early second week of May. That being said, that’s what the model projects, and what happens between now and then temperature-wise can shift that probably a week either way,” he said.

Participation is expected to be up with advance prices expected to be $100 to $150 per ton, compared to $50 per ton in recent years.

Nineteen seiners and 16 gillnetters are signed up for the fishery, which is the largest in the state and does not require a permit to fish.

The quota is down somewhat, with a biomass expected around 131,000 tons and 22,943 tons set aside for the sac roe fishery. That compares to a biomass last year of 162,000 tons and a harvest of nearly 29,000 tons.

However, ADF&G is taking a conservative approach to this year’s fishery, because funding cuts have reduced the amount of data available to fine-tune the forecasts.

Herring in the Bering Sea are genetically distinct and much larger and longer-lived than the ones in the Gulf of Alaska, although they are considered Pacific herring. They also are migratory, with most traveling offshore to central Bering Sea wintering grounds, with some migrating over 1,000 miles.

Gulf of Alaska herring generally move less than 100 miles among spawning, feeding and wintering grounds.

Commercially exploitable quantities of herring occur in Alaska from Dixon Entrance at the tip of the Panhandle to Norton Sound.

Herring have supported some of Alaska’s oldest commercial fisheries, and subsistence fisheries for herring in Alaska predate recorded history.

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.

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