The Sitka Sac Roe herring fishery is managed by ADF&G and takes place every spring. Historically, the Sitka Assembly has not taken a position on its management. At a meeting in January (01-09-18), the Assembly passed a resolution calling for conservation of Sitka’s herring stock.  (KCAW file photo)

After nearly three hours of testimony and deliberation, the Sitka Assembly gave their official support to the Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s conservation position on the sitka sac roe herring fishery during their regular Tuesday meeting (01-09-18).

Their resolution (Res 2018-01), passed by a 4-2 voted, stated the Assembly shares “STA’s concerns about conserving the Sitka Sound herring stock and protecting the subsistence harvest of herring eggs in Sitka Sound.”

Twenty one Sitkans testified in favor of the resolution out of concern for the forage fish. They fear the collapse of the Sitka Sound herring fishery, as has happened in other communities.

Lillian Feldpausch: You know the herring used to come up in Camden. They’re not there anymore. They used to be up in Chatham, Lynn Canal, Ketchikan.

Matthew Jackson: I’m from Ketchikan, where there’s no longer a viable herring population. I’ve lived in Sitka for the last four years.

Keith Nyitray: I’ve lived in the Kasiana Island group going over 19 years now and over those 19 years, I have witnessed the decline in the spawning population in a very traditional area.

Elsa Sebastian: I grew up in Point Baker, a place that is also now devoid of herring spawn. In fact, when I grew up there, I didn’t even realize as a child that we once had herring that would fill the bay, that would blacken the bay, and that herring eggs would watch up in our beaches.

Jaclyn Cedar: Herring spawned in the back chuck, in the front chuck, and outside in Clarence Straits. Well, herring seining was allowed there – I believe in the late 70s and early 80s. It didn’t take ‘em many years and they annihilated the herring.

Many Sitkans – seven in total – also urged the Assembly to vote the resolution down. Several backed the scientific modeling of Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which indicates the stock has only grown in size. Many argued that limiting the fishery could have negative fiscal impacts on the whole community in the tens of millions of dollars.

Chelsea Goucher: Please allow the Board to do what they do best and maintain neutrality on this issue.

Steve Reifenstuhl: Supporting this will put the Assembly’s fingerprints on a proposal that, if passed by the Board of Fish, will decrease city revenue significantly. Probably over $100,000 in raw fish tax, bed tax, lost electrical receipts, and a huge multiplier effects to our community. In addition, the city will be spending a message to processors and fisherman that you do not support their industry.

Richard Riggs: In the case of the City of Sitka, if those revenues are not realized, it simply broadens the fiscal gap and further exaggerates the fiscal challenges our community and Sitkans are facing.

Wayne Unger: ADF&G is very responsible and professional in how they manage that fishery and they are doing a beautiful job of it in how they manage that fishery, as they do with the other fisheries as well.

Steve Reifenstuhl leads the Southeast Herring Conservation Alliance. Richard Riggs and Wayne Unger work at Silver Bay Seafoods. They are the biggest processor Sitka sac roe herring when the fishery opens.

In the end, the resolution passed, with sponsors Kevin Knox and Aaron Bean voting for, as well as Ben Miyasato  and Richard Wein, who asked, “What would the herring do?”

Mayor Matthew Hunter and Bob Potrzuski voted against, stating that while they fully support Sitka Tribe of Alaska, they didn’t think it appropriate for the Assembly to back proposals before the Board of Fish.

“I have never thought that this was our job,” Potrzuski said. “I appreciate everybody’s testimony and I think it will be great testimony in front of the Board of Fish because they’re going to be able to do something about it.”

Assembly member Steven Eisenbeisz was not in attendance. The Board’s first session on shellfish begins tomorrow and finfish on January 15th.

In other business, the Sitka Assembly also heard a report (The Rand Corporation) from the RAND Corporation about their bid for landslide research funding and from several citizens pushing to raise the legal age of tobacco sales to 21.

City Administrator Keith Brady also informed the Assembly that the city’s public works department did not get the federal permits needed to replace the failing pilings on the O’Connell Dock. As a result, the city will not be able to save money by working with the contractor already in town.

“We’re hoping that our suggestions and the rate study that we get back will us rationalize or justify re-doing the pilings on O’Connell and help re-pay back the work that’s being done out there,” Brady.

The Assembly also passed, on first reading, an alternative allocation method for receiving tax revenue from the state on fish processors.