Fishing has started in another commercial herring fishery in Southeast Alaska this month. Fishery managers expect herring could be starting to spawn this week in a spawn-on-kelp fishery near Craig and Klawock on Prince of Wales Island.
The guideline harvest level is a big increase from last year, set at 1,667 tons. That includes 742 tons not caught in a herring food and bait fishery this winter.
Scott Walker is area management biologist in Ketchikan for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
“After quite a downturn from last year, we’re seeing a real strong presence of fish out here this year and in addition to the quota that we have we have a little left over from the bait pound fishery so we’re at the top level of kelp allocation and so the fishery is prosecuted being able to be prosecuted as normal this year,” he said. “So far, we’ve seen a pretty good body of herring in the deep areas around Craig and we’re seeing some movement into the pounding areas today and lots of whales and predator activity and so everything looks like we’re going to be having some spawn here pretty quick.”
Fishermen bring pound structures, similar to a floating net pen with kelp fronds attached. The herring eggs are harvested on the kelp and sold as a delicacy in Asia.
With a low estimate of the fish returning to spawn last year fishermen had restrictions, forced to team up with six permit holders in each pound and a limit of only 20 pound structures for the fishery. This year those restrictions are not in place.
Walker said it looks like there will be about 80 pounds in the water near Craig this year. He said predators are signaling that fish are moving into shallower waters to spawn.
“The whales have moved into some shallow areas and the sea lions would indicate the fish are as well,” he said. “Things look good. And it looks like we have a really good crop of kelp. Some of the kelp beds just look really dense this year and a lot of the kelp. So potentially there’s a lot of positive factors. We never know how the fish are going to behave but it’s a good start.”
Herring typically spawn in that area in late March and early April. Last year, the fleet harvested just under 70 tons of herring eggs, worth more than $900,000 at the docks.
Besides the sac roe fishery in Sitka Sound, the bait fishery and spawn-on-kelp fishery near Craig and Klawock are the only other herring fisheries in Southeast this spring.