Herring samples on the dock at the Fishermen’s Quay. Two sample sets were taken today, though the fish were of inadequate size to prosecute a fishery. (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

Though the Sitka sac roe herring fishery has been on standby since March 20th, they’ve only caught a quarter of the quota. Many boats have left town in a fishery that was non-competitive this year and appears to be petering out. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will continue to survey for harvestable schools this weekend. Their research vessel, the R/V Kestrel, has returned to Petersburg. 

Downloadable audio.

“This is the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. We’re right outside the breakwater. Can everybody hear me north of town and south of town?,” said Assistant Area Management Biologist Aaron Dupuis over Channel 10 at 10:15 a.m. this morning.

Dupuis was out on the water, looking for herring just like everyone else in Sitka Sound. The herring ADF&G has spotted are too small for most processors to buy and the larger class is starting to spawn. That means the window to fish viable herring and harvest roe from the females is rapidly closing.

“We’re starting to see some spawn in the Siginaka Islands,” Dupuis said over VHF. “It’s just starting to take off in there. Eastern Bay is starting to spread more than what we’ve seen the last couple of days.”

When herring are actively spawning, they turn the water milky white. From the air, ADF&G has measured less than 10 miles of cumulative spawn in the past two weeks. Aerial surveys today saw 1.8 nautical miles of spawn in Eastern Bay and the Siganaka Islands. 

A map of the herring spawn measured by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game today. 1.8 miles were mapped in Eastern Bay and the Siganaka Islands. (ADF&G Map)

That’s the word from the air. From the sea, boats reported schools of varying sizes.

Matt Kinney of the F/V Hukilau described what he saw over VHF this morning. “We ran across a couple of schools, nothing with much volume. Maybe there was one over 120 tons and another maybe 80 and they were just really flighty and hard to stay on top of. We just got a jig into them and they looked like 90 gram fish,” Kinney said.

To put that in perspective, the Sitka Sentinel reported that processors initially said they would only purchase fish over 125-grams in size.

Later this afternoon, two sets were successfully taken between Eastern Point and Beehive Island.

The F/V Valkyrie had a 10-ton set with 8.5% mature row and 104-gram average weight, while the F/V Anduril had a 5 ton set with 7.9% mature row and 84-gram average weight.

A press release issued at 4:16 p.m. said those fish “were of insufficient quality to warrant an opening.”

The next fishery update will be Saturday, March 31st.