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Herring fleet hurries up and waits

SITKA, ALASKA Click here for a slideshow of photos of this year's herring fleet

Almost every stall in Sitka’s Eliason Harbor is taken. On float 10, the tie up lines of the Icicle tender St. Lazaria strain with the evening shift in tides. A few boats over, the crew of the Afognak runs a pre-season safety drill.

Last year this time, the fleet was on two hour notice, meaning that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game could announce an opening at any moment. This year, the Department expects five openings for the season and a record guideline harvest level of 19,490 tons but regional Management biologist Dave Gordon said Wednesday that the herring sampled so far haven’t showed mature roe.

“Eggs change in color just prior to spawning –they turn a translucent gold color—and that is what the market wants, herring roe at the peak of its maturity,” he said. “Right now the skeins that I saw yesterday appeared to be quite a way off.”

As of Thursday morning, test sets showed mature roe at 0.5%. Gordon said that the Department doesn’t do intensive sampling until roe shows 8-9% maturity. At that point, the Petersburg based research vessel–the Kestrel arrives in Sitka to run samples on the fishing grounds.

The Department plans to run its next test set Friday. Meanwhile, Gordon said they plan to monitor the feeding behavior of other animals in the sound with aerial surveys.

“Typically what we see as we get closer to spawning is additional fish move into sound and toward shore,” he said. “And then that happens is we generally see an increase in the number of sea lions and the distribution of sea lions changes, suggesting to us that there is a change going on and we might need to be more aggressive in test sampling.”

So far, Gordon said all indications show that the fleet will stay in a waiting pattern.

“Right now we’re watching the herring and we’ll just keep gathering the information we need to to make sure that we are on top of it when the herring are,” he said.

Back in Eliason Harbor, aboard another tender, Silver Bay’s Howkan, Kelly Warren is taking advantage of the free time to drill his crew.

Part of what we’re doing now is going over everything we can so when we get out there, we don’t cause that fisherman any delay,” he said.

“Everytime we pull up to the net, it’s high stress –we want to do everything right but [you ask yourself] are we going to do the net right? Is it going to be a problem? Is it going to be heavy? It gets stressful…it’s so different from one set to another…so I just twiddle my thumbs and say ‘o man o man o man’ but once they actually make a set and you drive up the net, it just kicks in and you do what you do and the stress goes away and you just do your work.”
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