The Sitka Sound Sac Roe Herring fishery opened on Saturday (3-26-22). Seiners landed an estimated 450 tons of herring in one-hour and 15 minutes of fishing, in beautiful weather along the eastern shoreline of Kruzof Island.

The fishery moved into Hayward Strait on Sunday, and was open for eight hours, from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. As of press time, the total catch for the day has not been published.

Earlier in the week there was some concern that diesel fuel leaking from a tugboat grounded about 5 miles to the north may have spread as far as Hayward Strait. However, southeast winds over the weekend may have prevented further spread of fuel to the south.

The state has set a record guideline harvest level – or GHL – for the fishery this year of over 45,000 tons, but that figure is considered to be both in excess of market demand and processing capacity. 

Matt Kinney is one of 47 permit holders in the fishery.

“We have such a large GHL that we’ll never even come close to scratching the surface of actually processing what we’re allowed to catch,” said Kinney. “It’s just a glass ceiling that’ll never be broken.”

The additional constraint on the sac roe fishery is timing: The herring have to be landed just before they spawn, when the egg sacs in the females are at their ripest.

In recent years, seiners have tried to optimize the harvest by fishing cooperatively, rather than in a free-for-all that may produce fish of lesser quality.

Kinney says there’s an element of competition this year, but ultimately the goal will be keeping processors supplied with the best fish.

“If we’re constricted in in our area, then you might see a little bit of competition, but it’s going to be cooperative within processors,” said Kinney. “But everyone wants that first fish. And so it’s gonna be a matter of who gets them first. And then once the plants are full, it’s going to pretty much settle down to a very simple fishery.”

The first herring spawn was observed over the weekend in Sitka Sound. A Fish & Game aerial survey recorded 1.6 nautical miles of spawn between Inner Point and Mountain Point on Kruzof Island, and just across the sound in Crow Pass. Herring predators – sea lions and whales – were concentrated along the Kruzof shoreline from Vitskari Rocks to Mud Bay.