Plenty of herring expected in Togiak this spring, despite continuing "doom and gloom" for the market.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game released its Togiak herring forecast Wednesday, and once again, the market, not the fish, is likely to be the limiting factor this spring.
Area Management Biologist Tim Sands said four processors are planning to operate this spring.
“Talking to them, we’re expecting 21 seine boats and three gillnet boats and then a daily processing capacity of 2,300 tons," he said. "Mostly we’ll just work through the seine quota, which is 20,000 tons, and that should be 7 to 8 days that they should be able to harvest all that.”
Fish and Game plans to open up the fishery as soon as enough herring is spotted, and offer liberal fishing time and area. So far, the market isn't expected to be any better than in the recent past.
“I talked to the processors and there’s still all kinds of doom and gloom as far as prices goes," Sands said. "Nobody said anything to indicate that it’s going to be better than it has been. Which is 50 dollars a ton last year.”
That's a contributing factor in one change to the fishery this year. For this first time in a while, the seine and gillnet catches won't be paired.
“Previously, we were supposed to manage so that each gear type, the purse seine and gillnet, harvested the first 50 percent of their quota kind of evenly," Sands said. "So they were coupled. And now they’re not coupled, so the seiners could catch all of theirs and the gillnetters not catch any and it’s fine. We don’t have to slow one gear type down to let the other gear type go.”
That change, which was made by the state Board of Fisheries in December, reflects the weaker market of late. Processing capacity can be limited, and the coupling used to ensure both gear types got a fair shake. But now that there’s little interest from gillnetters, that isn’t necessary.
When will all those herring show up? Sands said the forecast is for another early run, as it has been the past few years. But it's hard to be more precise than that.
"We have models that we use to project herring run timing and...the data we have for those models is so extreme relative to what we’ve ever seen before that it doesn’t really help us project anything, it just says it’s gonna be early."