Friday, February 20, 2009


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
in them.

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 fisheries 
beginning with its earliest aboriginal inhabitants who 
depended on herring for food. Southeast Alaska Natives still 
savor herring eggs which they obtain by allowing herring to 
spawn on hemlock boughs that have been placed in the water 
during 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 kelp 
prompted the development of Alaska's roe herring fisheries 
and remain the principle utilization of herring at present.

Sac roe fisheries harvest herring just before spawning 
using either purse seine or gillnet gear. Herring are 
transferred 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 is 
salted and packaged as a product that sometimes sells for
 over $100/lb in Japan. In recent years the Alaska sac 
roe 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 and 
amounts of fishing gear that may be used, allocate the 
allowable harvest among user groups, and determine the 
range of dates allowed for fisheries. ADF&G determines 
the exact opening and closing times each season. For sac roe 
fisheries, openings are timed to occur when herring have 
produced the maximum amount of roe. 

Because herring eggs are deposited on intertidal and subtidal 
vegetation, herring are particularly vulnerable to oil spills that 
occur near the time of spawning, such as the Exxon Valdez oil 
spill of 1989. Although immediate mortality of herring 
following the Exxon Valdez oil spill was thought to be low,
a population crash that became apparent in 1993 may be 
linked to the earlier spill.


Laura ~Peach~ said...

how totally cool is that!!!!

Karen Deborah said...

wow you not only cook, take beautiful pictures, write with a warm and wonderful style, but know you are an educator and documentariest, my new word for the week. This is not just cool it's stinkin cool!

Becky said...

Such neat stuff,thanks for sharing.

mary said...

You live in the most amazing place! I couldn't get the top picture to enlarge - are those fishing boats? Have a wonderful week.

laura said...

(3-16-09) I saw the NatGeo special last night - it was so interesting! It is amazing how many of these herring are caught and what these fishermen go through to catch them!