Seiners land 1465 tons of herring in short Port Moller fishery

May 10, 2017

Two buyers and eight seiners left Togiak and fished two openers in Port Moller this week. A total of 1465 tons were landed, with an avg. roe reported around 12 percent and avg. weights above 450 grams.

Herring fisheries in western Alaska. Port Moller doesn't open every year, but this year some of the fleet that had fished Togiak hauled in another 1465 tons at Port Moller in two openers.
Credit Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game

(Find the full map of active herring fisheries in Alaska at this link.)

The total amount of Pacific herring harvested continues to grow this spring. Gillnet boats fishing Togiak landed another 227 tons Tuesday, bringing their season total past 1100 tons. The purse seine fleet wrapped up in Togiak after catching just under 16,000 tons, but some of the boats found more fishing time in Port Moller.

Audio transcript: Port Moller herring is not a tightly managed fishery, and it doesn’t happen every year. Whether there is reason to open it or not is mainly driven by the market after the other major herring fisheries elsewhere in Alaska and down the Pacific coast have wrapped up, says state area management biologist Bob Murphy.

“Port Moller is to the end of those herring fisheries," he said, explaining the timing of the run. "If there’s herring still on the table, and the processors and fishermen still want the harvest, they explore Port Moller usually after Togiak is done.”

Two buyers and eight seiners moved over from Togiak to continue their efforts, fishing an area from north of Sandy River down to a pair of bays around Port Moller.

“We had a 30 hour fishery, and approximately 1475 tons were caught. Roe percent was good, up at around 12 percent is what I heard, and they were typically large fish for the first day, like 450 to 480 grams.” (He later corrected the total in a press release to say 1465 tons.)

The weight and roe figures are based on samples taken by the buyers. They reported the size and quality of the catch fell off during the second day.

Murphy has no money to manage Port Moller herring in his budget, but he will survey the biomass again in a few days to see if there is enough for another opener. Even if there is, he suspects this short fishery is probably over.

“I doubt in a few days, if there is more available biomass in the Port Moller, that there will be anyone around to fish. So it looks like that could be the end of the Port Moller herring fishery ... a 30 hour fishery.”

The massive biomass of Togiak herring tend to all run inshore within a short window of a few weeks. The herring that spawn along the Peninsula coast near Port Moller act differently as they run inshore daily over more than a month, according to Murphy.

“They just keep trickling in. You don’t see them, then watch them get ripe over the course of days. They come in, they can spawn on the next tide, and start working their way out. And that can go on for weeks.”

Port Moller fished last year briefly, but only caught about 70 tons. Murphy said the last sizeable harvest was in 2009, and the biggest on record was a year in the early 1990’s when the fleet landed some 3800 tons.

“So the 1500, or slightly less than that that we have this year will be one of the better harvests for Port Moller," he said. "Certainly it’ll be in the top five or six, off the top of my head.”

The price being paid out for the Togiak and Port Moller catch has not been published yet. Whether or not the added harvest harms the market value of the overall catch remains to be seen. The Port Moller harvest goes on top of the 15,975 tons landed by Togiak seiners and the 1,100 caught by the Togiak gillnetters, who continue to fish this week.

Reach the author at dave@kdlg.org or 907.842.5281.

A large area of spawn was observed on the Togiak grounds Tuesday, the first sizeable spawn Fish and Game has observed this season. AMB Tim Sands thinks the stormy weather and cool temps slowed down the movement of the herring after they arrived in the district.
Credit ADF&G