Herring Update: Third opening lasts one hour, ten minutes

The seiner Infinite Grace pursing up during the third opening in the Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery, on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 (Photo by Rachel Waldholz/KCAW)

The seiner Infinite Grace pursing up during the third opening in the Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery, on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 (Photo by Rachel Waldholz/KCAW)

The Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery had its third opening Wednesday, concentrated in the waters just south of downtown.

The opening lasted one hour and ten minutes, starting at 2:30 p.m. and closing at 3:40 p.m. As of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Department of Fish & Game had not yet issued an estimate of how much was caught.

The action took place close enough to shore that Sitkans could stroll to the water’s edge from downtown businesses to watch the fleet make sets. People lined the Sea Walk and stood under the O’Connell Bridge with binoculars and cameras, as spotter planes circled overhead. The location of Wednesday’s fishery was different from the prior two openings, which both took place north of town, in Starrigavan and Katlian Bays.

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game released this map, showing where fishing is allowed in Wednesday’s herring opening. (Map courtesy of ADF&G)

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game released this map, showing where fishing is allowed in Wednesday’s herring opening. (Map courtesy of ADF&G)

Fish & Game biologist Dave Gordon had set a goal of about 3,000 tons for this third opening. That was a smaller amount than the Department had initially hoped for. Gordon had said earlier in the week that he hoped to catch the remaining tonnage left in this year’s harvest limit in one opening. But as it became clear that the amount left would exceed 6,500 tons — and exceed processing capacity — Gordon decided to aim for two openings.

During his 11 a.m. update on Wednesday, he said that a large volume of herring had also moved into waters near town that are out-of-bounds to the commercial fishery to protect subsistence use. Instead, the fishery targeted smaller schools of herring scattered throughout the waters south of town, Gordon said.

Despite the smaller volumes, Gordon said this morning, “I feel compelled to provide this opportunity,” given the quality of fish seen in test samples.

ADF&G also revised their counts from the previous two openings, on Sunday and last Thursday. Fish & Game now estimates the fleet caught a total of about 9,800 tons of herring in those first two openings, out of a total harvest limit of over 16,000 tons.

Gordon said that an aerial survey this morning found a few hundred yards of herring spawn on Middle Island; no other spawn was seen. In the sac roe fishery, the eggs are taken intact from the females. It’s critical to the success of the commercial harvest to land the fish prior to spawning.

Once the spawn begins, the focus in Sitka will switch to subsistence harvesting of roe on hemlock branches.