Limited entry permit holders in the Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery will be heading out on the grounds in late March for what could potentially be the fourth largest harvest in the fishery’s 46 year history.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Feb. 29 announced the final guideline harvest level for the 2016 season, based on a 20 percent harvest rate of a forecast mature biomass of 74,707 tons, would be 14,941 tons. State biologists said they expect some 200 tons would be harvested in the winter bait test fishery, which would be subtracted from the GHL, resulting in a target harvest of 14,741 tons.
The largest harvest on record, 19,419 tons, netted by the seine fleet in 2011, was close to that year’s GHL, said Dave Gordon, a commercial fisheries biologist with ADF&G’s Sitka office.
Last year the GHL was 8,712 tons, but a very large, unexpected recruitment last spring has prompted the large increase in this year’s GHL, Gordon said.
There are 47 limited entry permits for this fishery, and seven processors for the sac roe herring, which is likely to be harvested in three or four openers.
Test fishery samples taken in early February showed average weight at age for all age classes were less than the average weight at age from 2015 winter samples, resulting in a 5 percent decrease from the preliminary forecast mature biomass of 78,373 tons announced on Nov. 25, 2015.
ADF&G planned to conduct the first aerial survey of Sitka Sound about March 11 and post the season’s first fishery update after the flight. ADF&G biologists said they were seeking to have the first roe sample taken on March 15. The R/V Kestrel was scheduled to deploy from its homeport in Petersburg when roe samples indicate the need to put the fishery on two-hour notice.
The key to timing of the fishery is determining when the fish are almost ready to spawn, as well as determining that they test for 10 percent or better for roe, industries sources note.
Most of the harvest is frozen in Southeast Alaska and put on boats to China and Japan for secondary processing, to strip the roe, process and grade the roe for sale in Japanese markets.
Industry sources noted that the current market for this herring is soft, and that the current exchange rate and the strength of the Canadian sac roe herring fishery in northern British Columbia would be factors in final pricing.