The Sitka Sound Sac Roe Herring Fishery closed last week, but not before harvesting around 16,000 tons of herring, the biggest commercial harvest in nearly a decade.

Commercial fishermen want the lucrative fishery to continue. And while the state is in the middle of a lawsuit with the Sitka Tribe of Alaska over the management of the fishery, the state maintains that its model is conservative. But the model has its critics. KCAW spoke with Peter Bradley, a former Sitkan who has taken a deep dive into the data and modeling practices used by the state to manage herring.

KCAWWhat is what is “Fishy Numbers: An Inquiry” and how did you get started on it?

BradleyLast month I was in the preseason meeting that ADF&G held before the Sitka Sound Sac Roe Herring Fishery began. And at that meeting, the ADF&G staff members shared the herring forecasts for 2020 and 2021. And I was looking at these documents as they were speaking, and I realized that the weight at age that they were forecasting for this year’s fishery, which is to say how many grams an age five fish is, how many grams an age six fish is, those weights at age were derived from the 2017 and 2018, spring commercial purse seine weights at age. And if you’re forecasting for 2021, it seemed to me that you would want to be using more recent data from that. Now, there was no fishery in 2019 and 2020. And COVID-19 interfered in 2020. And, and so that sent me down a rabbit hole of really trying to get a better understanding of where the biomass numbers come from, and how the different components of the study fit together,

KCAW- Of your critiques of the state’s management, would the primary one be this this old data that they’re using in the forecast this year– is that kind of what you’re focusing on in this in this document?

BradleyI have two major focuses. One is on the weight at age issue and which samples are being referenced. The other issue is about the fecundity estimates that are being used.

Everything that ADF&G knows about herring is knowledge derived from work of a few departmental staff members with the assistance of the commercial fishing fleet for three, four, five weeks of a year. Whatever the herring are up to for the other 47 weeks of the year is beyond the scope of this research program.

It’s like determining what a person is up to through their whole life by like, you know, checking out what they’re up to in Vegas. You know, you’re gonna get a pretty, pretty different impression if that’s if that’s the quality of the study. And that’s not a critique of what ADF&G does know. It’s a critique of the lack of acknowledgement of what is unknown.

KCAWThere are a lot of ways to get involved in the in the conversation around herring and for you, you’ve really focused on on the model and in the last couple of years, and really, really been at the heels of ADF&G at all these meetings asking questions. You know, it’s super complicated. You mentioned in the report that, you know, you say, “Although I am a layman, I believe raising the following points of question is merited.”  What’s your response to people who have concerns about that in this report that you’ve generated?

Bradley- Yep, I’m not scientifically trained, I guess I’m if I’m trained as anything it’s as a historian. But a major part of it has been going back, all the way back to the beginning of this fishery, and back, you know, before that as well. And reading all of the colloquial accounts of abundance. What I’ve started to sort of feel like my niche is, is as a kind of comparative literature of herring history. And so it’s just, “What were they saying? What were they not saying?” And, and most of all, is there a narrative that can agree with all…that can make all these different sources kind of agree, like, can common truths be found in this issue? 

Read more about Peter Bradley’s “Fishy Numbers: An Inquiry” here.