Seiners are arriving to Sitka, and that means the start of the Sitka Sound Sac Roe herring fishery is around the corner. 

State fishery managers did their first aerial survey on Sunday, covering an area from Biorka Island to Krestof Sound. No spawn or schools of fish were observed during the first survey, but predators were observed along the Kruzof Island shoreline, and humpback whales were counted in the waters between Inner Point and Hayward Strait and in deeper water west of the Siginaka Islands. 

On Tuesday (3-14-23), they flew again, surveying from Povorotni Point to Salisbury Sound. Again, no spawn or herring schools were observed, and a press release from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game noted an unusual number of whales and sea lions in atypical locations for this time of year.

The commercial herring fishery isn’t on two-hour notice quite yet. Once state biologists determine that the conditions are right to gear up for the fishery, they’ll hold a pre-season meeting that will be open to the public on Zoom. Then they’ll announce fishery openings over VHF radio. Area Management Biologist Aaron Dupuis says staffing shortages have delayed the release of the annual sac roe management plan, but on Tuesday, his department issued a press release with some details on plans for commercial and subsistence management.

This year’s guideline harvest level is over 30,000 tons of herring– twenty percent of the projected biomass of fish. The herring population estimate isn’t record breaking like last year’s, but is still projected to be one of the highest in the last five decades.

According to the release, so far, there’s no official agreement between the department and the industry on this year’s harvest strategy and whether it will be competitive or noncompetitive, but it’s likely that it will be structured similar to the last two years.

The commercial herring fishery has been under scrutiny for years, and in 2018 the Sitka Tribe of Alaska sued the state over management of the fishery. The case made it all the way to the Alaska Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in December. A written decision is forthcoming.