Togiak sac roe herring fishery opens to challenges

Bad weather, zero state funding to prosecute the fishery, and the early arrival of the fish has thrown a bit of a wrench in to the gears of the Togiak sac roe herring fishery.

“Windier than all get out,” is how area management biologist Tim Sands described current weather conditions.

As of Monday, the total harvest was 7,489 tons, out of a total quota of 28,782 tons.

There is no doubt that 2016 sets or breaks records across the board.

Previously, the earliest date the herring biomass was spotted in the area was April 19. The earliest date spawn was observed was April 23, and the earliest date commercial fishing has ever started was April 25.

This year, private pilots reported seeing spawn on the morning of April 17, and the fishery was opened that evening. 

The reports from private pilots proved crucial to getting the fishery going.

“The state budget was zeroed out for Togiak herring, we had no money, so the industry donated $10,000 so that we could at least fly some surveys,” Sands said.

There were 21 seiners and three gillnetters registered for the fishery, but only 17 seiners and two gillnetters made it to the area by the time the fishery opened.

Four buyers made it in time and are participating, but have not taken much fish, partly because of the weather and partly because the areas where fishing is possible weather-wise, there are not many fish.

Not all of the donated money had been used yet for flying surveys, largely due to weather, but the lack of funding affects future fisheries.

“The thing that flying and sampling does for us is forecasting next year’s biomass, and documenting this year’s biomass,” Sands said.

It is difficult to predict how much longer the fishery will continue; it is being managed on the quota, but will be closed earlier if reports show that the fleet was catching fish that were too small, digging into the population of new recruits.

“We want to give them a chance to spawn before we start whacking away at them, so if the size of the fish gets below a certain threshold we’ll shut things down.”

The other possibility is that the processors might not be getting enough fish to make it worth their while.

He did say that roe percentages have been looking “really good,” around 11.7 percent.

Cristy Fry can be reached at