Herring was always going to be center stage for the Sitka Fish & Game Advisory Committee during its intense round of meetings this fall, and – even as the group pored over a big stack of other salmon and shellfish proposals – herring was never out of the limelight for long. KCAW took a look back at which herring proposals got the nod from the Sitka AC, before they’re handed to the Alaska Board of Fisheries at its meeting next month in Ketchikan.

It took the Sitka Fish and Game Advisory Committee five long meetings to review 14 herring proposals. And only a few proposals got a thumbs up. In November, the committee approved only one of three proposals from the Sitka Tribe of Alaska (STA). 

And in December, the group began reviewing herring again, starting off with several proposals from the Southeast Herring Conservation Alliance, a group that represents the interests of commercial fishermen. The Alliance was an intervenor in the lawsuit between the Sitka Tribe and the state over the management of the commercial herring fishery. With proposal 159, the group seeks to change a regulation that requires the state provide a reasonable opportunity for subsistence and to consider the quality and quantity of herring spawn on branches when making management decisions about the commercial fishery. The regulation was a central question in the suit against the state. Commercial fisherman Justin Peeler said leaving the regulation as written could jeopardize the future of the fishery.

“This regulation, it was took into court…and maybe it’s time to revise it. Maybe it’s time to bring it on the floor and, and see if we can come up with something better, or what there is,” Peeler said. “I think that is our main intention, to try to get out the misinterpretation of it.”

ADF&G biologist Aaron Dupuis said the state would be neutral on the proposal but said that it would continue to manage the fishery in the same way whether or not it passed. STA resource protection director Jeff Feldpausch said that wasn’t a guarantee, and the regulation needed to stay in place.

This regulation has been in place since 2002. So we’re looking at 19 years that it’s been in place, and it hasn’t shut down a fishery yet,” Feldpausch said. “Also, these court rulings came out in 2020. And the best of my knowledge, we still had a fishery in 2021. So it didn’t shut the fishery down.”

The AC unanimously opposed proposal 159. It also unanimously opposed proposal 160, which seeks to reopen some closed waters to commercial harvest. And it unanimously opposed a measure to require subsistence fishing permits in order to harvest herring roe on branches in the Sitka Sound area. 

While the AC didn’t favor the Alliance’s three proposals, it unanimously supported proposal 162, to increase the possession limit for spawn on kelp harvest. And it voted 11-1 in favor of proposal 163, proposed by Charles Olson, which seeks to establish equal share quotas for seiners in the commercial Sitka Sound Sac Roe fishery. Olson said he’s been seining for 42 years, and believes his proposal would rectify some problems with conservation, management costs, and safety. 

“All of these problems can be fixed by simply creating a fishery that is equally shared by all of the permit holders,” Olson said. “In an equal split fishery, the permit holder can choose when and how he wishes to catch a fish, or can even decide not to catch any fish at all.”

Tension over the management of the fishery is what led the herring meetings to run long, with public comment on most of the proposals, many of which saw opposition from the public. Here’s subsistence harvester and former Tribal Council member Tom Gamble speaking in opposition to proposal 159. 

“I’m going to challenge you in public, each and every one of you on the board tonight, to stand with a spine for the herring. The herring, not the people that fish them, not the people who are fighting them in courts,” Gamble said. “I’m asking tonight for the support of the herring that we’re not ending any fishery. We’re saving it.”

All of these proposals are soon on their way to the Alaska Board of Fisheries for consideration. The board’s two-week long meeting on Southeast finfish and shellfish proposals begins on January 4 in Ketchikan. 

The deadline to submit written comments on any proposal is December 22 at 11:59 p.m.

Read about each southeast herring proposal here

Here’s how the AC Voted on each herring proposal:
Proposal 156: 5-7 opposed
Proposal 157: 3-5 opposed
Proposal 158: 7-6 supports
Proposal 159: Unanimously opposed
Proposal 160: Unanimously opposed
Proposal 161: Unanimously opposed
Proposal 162: Unanimously supports
Proposal 163: 11-1 supports
Proposal 164: 3-10 opposed
Proposal 165: 2-10 opposed
Proposal 166: 8-5 supports
Proposal 167: unanimously opposed
Proposals 168-169- No comment.