Togiak purse seiners to close Saturday

Apr 29, 2016

Size of fish, not quota or lack of fish, will end seiners' 2016 effort. How close will they get to 20,000 by Saturday noon, and what effect will more catch have on take home price? 

Harvest from the Togiak sac-roe herring fishery.
Credit Tim Sands

After a big haul Thursday and reportedly good fishing Friday, the Department of Fish and Game has decided to close the Togiak purse seine herring fishery Saturday.

Audio transcript: More than two weeks ago the first spawn was sighted, long before the industry or the fleet was ready to start fishing. All hustled for the grounds and got after it, but the weather blew out the effort for several days. The catches were dropping off through this week, but rebounded big time with a 3200 ton haul Thursday, and close to a thousand more by mid Friday.

That means Togiak seiners have brought in roughly 15,000 out of their 20,000 ton quota, a number that’s expected to climb by Saturday’s closure.

The trigger to close the seiners fishery was the size of the individual fish, said area management biologist Tim Sands. In order to protect future runs, Fish and Game guards against over-harvesting the little guys.

"The older fish have gone through and spawned, but this next generation, these younger fish, we want them to have a chance to spawn before we start harvesting a bunch of them," said Sands. "Right now over 30 percent of the fish that are being taken are those young four, five, and six age classes that really need to be protected at this point."

The bigger fish are typically 8, 9, or 10 year olds who have spawned a time or two prior, and for whatever reason tend to hit the beaches first. Their early arrival was an early concern when the fleet got a late start, that the fishermen might miss the older fish altogether.

"I’m very surprised we’re going to take that much of the quota," said Sands. "After missing the first several days of the run, I was not expecting to get this close to the quota. Honestly I would have liked to keep it open longer, but we have to err on the side of conservation."

Togiak herring are known for being big compared to other fisheries, and the quality and percentage of the roe yield has also been high again this year. Icicle Seafood’s Warner Lew gave an update Friday morning from aboard the floating processor Gordon Jensen.

"The quality remains consistently really good. This is 11-12 percent roe content, and typically you only see that sort of thing in the gillnet fishery, but it’s been great all season," he said.

There are two gillnet boats participating this year, and they can keep fishing; their gear allows more selective harvest. 

The seiners have to wrap up Saturday by noon. How much closer they get to their 20,000 ton quota should be known by Monday. What this late season boosted harvest does to the value of their catch, with a market that seems to have more than enough herring roe, remains to be seen.

dave@kdlg.org or 907.842.5281