The Craig/Klawock spawn-on-kelp pound fishery, with 147 permitted fishermen landing 568,000 pounds of the fish, was the highlight of 2020 herring fishery in Southeast Alaska, say biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
This was both the highest level of participation and amount of spawn-on-kelp product landed, according to ADF&G. Final ex-vessel value, the amount paid to harvesters, will not be available until autumn, ADF&G said in late May.
The report does not include the herring winter food and bait harvest from the Craig area, which began in October of 2019 and ended in February, with 895 tons of herring, said Troy Thynes, region 1 management coordinator for ADF&G.
Commercial herring populations in Southeast Alaska are marginal for the most part, but three years ago there was a good spawn and survival rate.
State biologists are now starting to see that strong recruit class show up, said Paul Salomone, area management biologist at Petersburg.
The fish are about three years old before state biologists start sampling them, and are probably in the 70-gram range, but their size all depends on what they have encountered in the ocean, Salomone said.
The only other fishing area that has consistently met threshold in recent years is the Sitka area, where a sac roe seine fishery occurs, Thynes said.
“Despite the Sitka area having a very robust biomass, the herring population has been comprised of mostly younger, smaller herring,” he said. “The average weight of the 2020 return was forecasted to be less than 100-gram fish.”
“Fish of that size would be too small to meet market demands and buyers opted not mobilize to buy herring. This was similar to 2019, with the exception fishermen and processors mobilized, but large enough concentrations of marketable sized and quality herring could not be found. Or at least found segregated enough from the very large biomass of younger, smaller herring,” Thynes said.
“These fisheries based on the Craig and Sitka spawning stocks have been or would be occurring because the biomass has exceeded the thresholds to allow for fisheries on a consistent basis. This has not been the case for 4-plus years for other herring stocks in Southeast. Thresholds have not been met so fisheries have not occurred, so it is really a combination of market conditions and the size of specific herring stocks,” he said.
As for market demands, the market has always sought larger herring with high roe percentages of at least 110 grams with 11 percent or greater in roe, he said. There are also times when the herring are too big and a lower price is paid, as can be the case with Togiak herring.
Another factor is the changing tastes of younger generations in Asian markets, who do not value the herring as much as older generations do.