At 1:40 p.m. Thursday, Alaska Department of Fish and Game area management biologist Dave Gordon announced the first opening of the Sitka Sound Herring Sac Roe fishery season, north of Middle Island.

Heavy grey skies and rain hung over the designated fishing grounds a few miles east of downtown Sitka. The fleet’s 48 permit holders and their seine boats jockeyed for a position close to the beach, combing the waters for schools of spawning herring. Cannery tender vessels drifted alongside, out of the action but close enough to pull up when a set was made and pump fish into their holds before dashing to canneries in Petersburg, Sitka and Ketchikan. From there, the herring eggs, will be sent to Japan and China to be processed into kazunoko –a high end Japanese new year delicacy.

Gordon announced an expected harvest of 3 to 4,000 tons for Thursday’s opening but the Department called a closure at 6:30 pm with only 1,500 tons caught.

Some, like Icicle Cannery Tenderman Deena Hand, had been waiting in Sitka for an opening for two weeks.

“I’m pretty excited we’re doing something,” she said. “It’s always nice to leave the dock and get going.”

The opening didn’t bring fish aboard the icicle tender Afognak, where Hand works. But the slow afternoon gave her and her fellow deckhand Jody Smythe time for boat projects.

They readjusted lines on deck, set up a counting system for future fish deliveries, installed new fire hydrants and heated up chili and bar-b-q chicken for cold skiff drivers who stopped by the boat to warm up between test sampling trips.

Smythe even had extra moments to practice on his banjo.

Aboard the Silver Bay tender Adirondack, Captain Alan Jacklet said his crew had a similarly mellow day.

“Our day was good, our seiner didn’t do particularly well and we just followed him around,” he said.

In addition to the first opening’s low fish harvest, Icicle’s technician coordinator, Jeff Poole, said the quality of the roe sampled was on the lower end of what was acceptable to industry standards.

“Don’t get me wrong–the quality is ok, it could just be better” he said. “It looked like to me we could have waited, it’s just hard for people to wait when we know historically we are just getting pretty far into the time when we should be fishing but Mother nature is just doing what she’s got to do and some years are going to be different.”

The Department said it plans to send out five seine boats from the fleet to run test sets this morning to help decide whether there should be another opening today.
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