The Sitka Sound Sac Roe herring fishery will go on two-hour notice on Thursday morning (3-23-23). That means at any time after that, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game can announce a fishery opening with two hours warning. 

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Monday conducted aerial surveys of Sitka Sound from Cape Burunof to St. Lazaria Island. According to a press release from the department, no spawn or herring schools were observed during their flights. 

Herring predators were widely dispersed, but groups of humpback whales were observed near Inner Point, north of Middle Island, and south of Galankin Island. Groups of sea lions were observed near Inner Point, Mountain Point, and Bieli Rock. Department and industry vessels surveyed from Indian River to Deep Inlet and from Inner Point to Mountain Point.

From boats, several herring schools were observed from Indian River to Deep Inlet and from Inner Point to Mountain Point, as well as southeast of Big Gavanski Island.

Two test sets were conducted from department and industry vessels to assess the maturity of the fish. The fishery targets the herring’s eggs known as roe, which are sold internationally. A test set of herring pulled from South Galankin Island showed fish with around 3 and a half percent mature roe, at an average weight of 129 grams. Mature roe for a test set pulled near Mountain Point was much lower, at point two percent, with the fish weighing around 90 grams on average. In order to open the fishery, state managers want to see fish with at least 10 percent mature roe.

The state’s research vessel, the Kestrel, will arrive in Sitka on Wednesday morning and immediately conduct a vessel survey. 

Last year, the guideline harvest level for the fishery was 45,000 tons, but fishermen only caught around 25,000. That was still the highest harvest on record. The guideline harvest level for this year’s fishery is set at 30,000 tons. 

The fishery and its management have been under scrutiny for years.  In 2018 the Sitka Tribe of Alaska sued the state over management of the fishery. That case was settled in 2021, but in December of last year, attorneys for STA called for a reversal of the superior court’s ruling before the Alaska Supreme Court. The court is expected to issue a written decision on the Tribe’s appeal sometime this year.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will hold a fishery meeting from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday (3-21-23) on Zoom. The meeting is open to the public. Find a link to attend the meeting here. Sitka Tribe of Alaska is holding an informational meeting on herring Wednesday (3-22-23) at noon in the executive board room of the Tribe’s administration building. The public is invited to attend