The seine fleet has started to trickle into Sitka’s harbors, but the herring still aren’t showing themselves in large numbers.

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game conducted an aerial survey on Thursday morning (3-17-22) from Eastern Channel and along the eastern Kruzof shoreline to Eastern Bay. No herring schools or spawn were observed in the survey, but rough waters and winds affected visibility.  

Surveyors did observe herring predators, like sea lions and humpback whales, in a few areas. State fisheries biologist Aaron Dupuis says it’s pretty typical for this time in the season.

“Nothing out of the ordinary right now. Looks like herring predators are kind of staging in classic early season positions,” he said. “They’re going after herring in the deep waters, off of Vitskari Trench and Bieli Rock Trench.”

Weather conditions were too rough for surveyors to fly today/on Friday. But Dupuis says there’s still a little time before he expects the commercial herring fishery to go on “two-hour notice.” 

“You know, in the last news release,” Dupuis says, “where we had test set information, it was 0% mature row, so we’ve got a little bit of time.”

A virtual mapping tool makes it possible to see the exact path surveyors flew on Thursday and every day so far this herring season. The state has been using the tool for a couple of years, with more information available each season as they refine it. It now shows how many predators were spotted in a given area, and when spawning kicks off it will show the miles of milt in a given area, typically with photos attached.  

“The big push for us to do this was, I guess, to develop more transparency with what goes into our aerial surveys so folks can see, in real time, once we get back,” he says. “We link the data, and it’s available to folks, they can see where the plane went, they can see what we saw.” 

View the survey tool here

The next survey is scheduled for Monday March 21 unless there is significant change in the abundance of predators.