Despite conflict over subsistence, state plans to double commercial harvest of Sitka Sound herring

A box of herring eggs from the 2019 harvest in Sitka.  (Photo by Enrique Pérez de la Rosa/KCAW)

State managers intend to double the commercial harvest level for the Sitka Sound sac roe fishery. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced on Dec. 23 that the target for the 2020 season would be 25,824 tons. That’s twice as much set in 2019 which resulted in an unresolved court challenge from Sitka’s tribe over alleged conflicts with subsistence.

The sac roe fishery occurs in the spring, just before the herring spawn. ADF&G anticipates around a 212,000 ton biomass of mature herring next year, far above 2019’s estimate of more than 130,000 tons.

The state’s harvest level is calculated from a percent of the herring biomass which is capped at 20 percent. This year’s level is 10 percent of the biomass state biologists are predicting.

For the first time in decades, the state didn’t open the fishery in 2019, because fish were too small, with too little roe to be marketable abroad. Meanwhile, subsistence users are seeing a shrinking spawning window, and fewer eggs on branches — a traditional food staple for Southeast tribes.

The last season’s harvest level was set at at 13,000 tons. This prompted the Sitka Tribe of Alaska to sue, alleging the commercial fishery was infringing on the rights and access for subsistence users.

The case remains pending in court.

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