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Seiners land 4K tons in herring season opener

Seiners in Starrigavan Bay during the first opening of Sitka's 2014 sac roe herring fishery. (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)

Seiners in Starrigavan Bay during the first opening of Sitka’s 2014 sac roe herring fishery. (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)

The Sitka herring fishery had its first opening this afternoon (Thu 3-20-14).

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game declared the Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery open at 1:45 p.m. The fishing area covered much of Starrigavan and Katlian bays, north of Sitka.

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The Alaska Department of Fish & Game released this map, showing the boundaries of Thurday's herring season opener. Fishing was restricted to Starrigavan and Katlian bays, north of Sitka. (Map courtesy ADF&G)

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game released this map, showing the boundaries of Thurday’s herring season opener. Fishing was restricted to Starrigavan and Katlian bays, north of Sitka. (Map courtesy ADF&G)

The opening lasted two hours and thirty-five minutes, closing at 4:20 p.m. The Department estimated that the fleet caught at least 4,000 tons of herring, and announced that there will be no fishing Friday (3-21-14), to allow processors to work through the catch.

If sold at last year’s price, today’s catch would be worth about $2.4-million to fishermen at the docks. This year’s price, however, remains unclear.

The total harvest level for this year is over 16,000 tons. Speaking with KCAW earlier this week, Fish & Game biologist Dave Gordon estimated that it would take about four separate openings to reach the limit.

Officials gave the fleet two hours’ notice of the opening at 11:45 a.m. (Thu 3-20-14), after samples of fish tested in the morning found well over 10-percent mature roe, or eggs, in the herring.  10-percent mature roe is the Department’s threshold for a fishery. The most recent two samples came back with 12.5-percent and 13.1-percent mature roe, which is high even for the high-quality Sitka fishery.

The opening kicked off with a voice countdown from Gordon, on board the state’s research vessel, the Kestrel:

GORDON: Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, OPEN! The Sitka Sound sac roe fishery is now open. The Sitka Sound sac roe fishery is now open. This is the Department of Fish & Game standing by, Channel 10.

Sitkans lined Halibut Point Road near the ferry terminal to watch the fishery. From left: George Eliason, Dillon Bets, Alainah Nelson, Misty Smith, Sandee Holst. (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)

Sitkans lined Halibut Point Road near the ferry terminal to watch the fishery. From left: George Eliason, Dillon Bets, Alainah Nelson, Misty Smith, Sandee Holst. (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)

There are forty-eight permit-holders in the lucrative seine fishery. On Thursday afternoon, most of those boats were concentrated in Starrigavan Bay, within sight of Sitka’s road system. People lined Halibut Point Road near Sitka’s ferry terminal, watching through binoculars and cameras as the fishery unfolded in front of them and spotter planes circled overhead.

Among the spectators were two women who identified themselves as Karen and Leanne.

Leanne: You’ve got your pilots flying, and you’ve got spotters actually looking down talking to boats, so you’ve got several people in the planes. And they just have to be very, very careful. They get special permission to work in this kind of airspace.  Normally you’re not supposed to fly that close to each other.”

Karen: It’s very exciting of  course when they do the count down and you see all the boats jockeying for position. And seeing what they catch — it’s actually amazing to see how many herring are in a net.

The Department of Fish & Game plans aerial and vessel surveys throughout the day on Friday (3-21-14), and will be issuing informational updates over the radio at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Those can be heard on VHF marine radio, on Channel 10.

Emily Forman contributed to this report. 

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