The Sitka Sound Sac Roe herring fishery isn’t kicking off just yet. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has been conducting aerial surveys of fish over the last week in preparation for the fishery, but so far they haven’t spotted any spawn or mature roe.
During their first aerial survey of Sitka Sound on Monday (3-13-23) they noticed some unusual activity- a large number of whales in the shallow waters east of Kruzof Island. Speaking with KCAW on Friday (3-17-23) Area Management Biologist Aaron Dupuis said that’s much more common toward the end of the month, not at the beginning of spawning season.
“Pretty exciting couple of hours until we got out on the water and we were able to get a test set of fish to see what they look like, to see if they were maturing enough to put the fishery on two-hour notice. But when the test results came back, it was 0% mature row,” Dupuis said.
“So why [were] those fish there? That’s anybody’s guess right now,” Dupuis added. “I suspect, we had that week and half of beautiful sunny weather that might have had something to do with it. Or the whales just carved off a big chunk of the biomass and pushed them up into the shallow waters and were working on them.”
The department conducted aerial surveys on Tuesday and Wednesday, and noticed the whales were pretty much staying in the same area. But by the time they got up in the plane on Friday (3-17-23), the whales had dissipated.
“All those fish that were up on the shallows, there were a few big schools in Hayward straight and off of Inner Point. But by and large, most of those had shifted off into the deep water,” Dupuis said.
“But we did see east of the Siginakas between Lisianski Point and Dog Point, there’s a fairly large biomass of fish in that area. And we did get a test sample off those fish today [Friday],” Dupuis said. “And again, it was 0% mature roe. So we still got some time. We got time.”
Herring predators were still seen along the Kruzof Island shoreline from Inner Point to Kamenoi Point during aerial surveys on Saturday and Sunday, but humpback whales have begun to be observed between Bieli Rock and Makhnati Island and south of Whale Island. A large concentration of sea lions was observed near Inner Point during both surveys.
The fishery won’t go on two hour notice until it looks like the mature herring have separated out from the rest of the population and have an 8 to 9% mature roe content.
Dupuis says with a 30,000 ton guideline harvest level there will likely be more herring available than the fleet can catch. That means this year’s fishery will likely be noncompetitive like the last two years. He estimates that around five processors and 28 or 29 vessels will participate in this year’s fishery.
You can find updated herring mapping data collected by ADF&G on their website here.