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Sitka herring harvest to be lower in 2013

Seine boats await an opening at Crescent Harbor, prior to the 2012 Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery. (KCAW photo/Ed Ronco)

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game announced the guideline harvest level for the 2013 Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery Wednesday. It is 11,055 tons.

The harvest level, also known as the GHL, determines how much the commercial fleet is allowed to catch.

Last year’s GHL was nearly 29,000 tons – a big jump from prior years after state scientists corrected an error in their data. But fewer herring than expected showed up last year. When the fishery closed, the fleet had caught less than half what they were allowed.

Dave Gordon is area management biologist for Fish & Game. He says after last season’s events, managers opted for a more cautious number in 2013.

“The return last year caught us all by surprise, very much so,” Gordon said. “There’s no reason we would have ever predicted what happened last year with that kind of a change. All the biological models, or predictive models in general, have limitations. No amount of data, or different model, would have predicted the outcome we did see in 2012.”

Next year’s GHL of 11,055 tons represents about 15 percent of the total predicted biomass, rather than the usual 20. Gordon says sometimes nature offers up a surprise, and that he still has confidence in the model it uses.

Wednesday’s number is preliminary. Fish & Game says the final GHL will be announced in late February.

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