Aerial photo of the Herring Fleet with their nets out.
The return of the Herring is kind of this town's way of
knowing winter is ending and everything is coming back
to life. There still has to be snow before the Herring
return, so we know it is still going to be cold enough
to snow well into March.
Right before they return we watch the Natives going
by the house all day long in boats with stacks of
evergreen branches that they anchor down into the
water along different shorelines so the herring will
come and attach their eggs onto them. I have heard
that they are so covered in these tiny eggs that you
can barely lift them out of the water. We went fishing
last year and everything in the water was completely
covered by these tiny eggs. My younger brother's island
property had herring eggs so deep along his shoreline
that they covered the top of your foot when we walked
I think the Herring came in April last year and it was
really, really cold and wet. It is so cool, though! The
whole town is waiting and listening on the radio for
the GO signal to be given. We can see all the vessels
going right by our house and it is amazing to watch
the entire fleet go by all day long. The processors are
massive and they come from all over to hold all
the herring. The huge processor The Northwestern
that everyone recognizes from the TV show The
Deadliest Catch was here for quite awhile.
The Humpback Whales are right in the middle of
all the boats, feeding, flipping their fins and some
were even breaching right by the boats! One of
the whales did get tangled in a net last year and
they brought in a lady in town that is a Whale
specialist to determine everything was O.K.
Last year during the Herring Sac Roe Fishery the
National Geographic came to town to film a special
about the fishery. My brother Keith was fortunate
enough to be asked to go along on one of the boats
right into the middle of the fishery as it happened.
Of course he took his camera and took pictures that
National Geographic has posted on their website here.
If you click the photos link next to the yellow Overview
button you will see some of the photos he took--cool huh?
National Geographic will be airing that Herring
Fishery episode they filmed here on Sunday, March 15th.
Here is a bit of history and explanation of the Herring Fishery:
Alaska has a colorful history of herring fisheriesbeginning with its earliest aboriginal inhabitants whodepended on herring for food. Southeast Alaska Natives stillsavor herring eggs which they obtain by allowing herring tospawn on hemlock boughs that have been placed in the waterduring the spring.When their herring stocks declined during the 1960s,Japan began importing herring roe from other countries.A lucrative market for herring eggs and eggs on kelpprompted the development of Alaska's roe herring fisheriesand remain the principle utilization of herring at present.Sac roe fisheries harvest herring just before spawningusing either purse seine or gillnet gear. Herring aretransferred from the catcher boats to larger tenders,which deliver the herring to large, Japanese "tramp"freighters. After the herring are transported to Japan,the roe is removed from the females, and their carcasses,along with the males, are made into fish meal. The roe issalted and packaged as a product that sometimes sells forover $100/lb in Japan. In recent years the Alaska sacroe harvest has averaged about 50,000 tons (45,500 mt),almost all of which ends up in the Japanese marketplace.The BOF also enacts regulations that control the types andamounts of fishing gear that may be used, allocate theallowable harvest among user groups, and determine therange of dates allowed for fisheries. ADF&G determinesthe exact opening and closing times each season. For sac roefisheries, openings are timed to occur when herring haveproduced the maximum amount of roe.Because herring eggs are deposited on intertidal and subtidalvegetation, herring are particularly vulnerable to oil spills thatoccur near the time of spawning, such as the Exxon Valdez oilspill of 1989. Although immediate mortality of herringfollowing the Exxon Valdez oil spill was thought to be low,a population crash that became apparent in 1993 may belinked to the earlier spill.