Sitka Sound Sac Roe Herring Fishery GHL Doubles for 2020

A guideline harvest level (GHL) for the 2020 Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery has been set to 25,824 tons by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), more than double the 2019 GHL of 12,869 tons, but market conditions are still questionable.

“ADF&G is all about opportunities, and if a portion of the biomass can be harvested and sold, we will offer the opportunity,” said Eric Coonradt, a state fisheries biologist in Sitka, Alaska. “We are going to gear up for a fishery and if the industry decides they don’t want to or if they do want to, that will steer us in the direction we will go. At this point in time the market is questionable,” he added. “We don’t open a fishery unless someone is willing to buy the fish we test. The processors tell us if they want them.”

If the Canadian market doesn’t harvest at all or at a minimum, there may be a market for smaller roe herring in Sitka bought and processed by Sitka Sound, Silver Bay, Icicle Petersburg Fisheries Inc., Trident, Alaska General and Icy Strait Seafoods.

Last year seven processors showed up, but the quality they wanted wasn’t there.

“We weren’t able to find a body of fish that fit that marketable range. They were looking at 120 grams on average and up to 12 percent mature roe. The largest herring we tested was 110 grams and barely making it to 11 percent roe,” he said. “This year we are looking at almost twice as many entering the mature population.”

In 2017, fishermen harvested just shy of 14,000 tons of herring, all of which was sold.

The 2020 GHL was calculated by reducing the age structure analysis derived GHL by 39 percent, which approximates the harvest level available if the number of age-4 fish is half of that protected, state officials said Dec. 23. This precautionary approach considers the higher than usual uncertainty in the size of the return of the age-4 herring.
The size of the forecasted 2020 age-4 cohort is extremely high and has more uncertainty due to its dependence on the number of age-3 fish estimated by modeling in 2019, maturity rate and estimate of survival for this unprecedented large age class.

The forecast itself is larger than the estimated 2019 mature biomass of 130,738 tons and greater than any forecast previously estimated for Sitka Sound herring, state biologists said. The 2020 Age Structure Analysist of mature herring biomass is 2112,330 tons. Large proportions of age-3 fish were also observed in other herring populations in the Gulf of Alaska in 2019.