Herring Opener - The Irish Eye

What marks the beginning of spring for you? Maybe its a celebration like Saint Patrick's Day or a ritual like the “Burning of the Socks”. Does nature signal you in some way, like the cherry blossoms in our nations capital? For us its the annual herring fishery. Every March about fifty permit holders with their seiners and crews along with dozens of support vessels come to Sitka to harvest part of the herring run.


The herring are primarily harvested for their eggs, which are sold in Japan. The fishery itself is intense. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) keeps the opening short, usually about two hours, so they can manage how many fish are caught and to keep the processors from being overwhelmed with product. And the fish are in a concentrated area. ADF&G in cooperation with the fishing fleet will monitor the fish until the moment is right. An opening time and place is announced, usually its a two hour notice.


As the moment gets close ADF&G counts down to the opening. In the meantime boats are jostling for position with spotter planes overhead relaying information to the vessels they're contracted to. When the countdown hits zero it on. Boats that feel like they're on the spot will set their nets. Others may wait. Some may set right in front of someone else's net. There are dozens of boats operating in this concentrated area, near misses are not uncommon. Actual collisions are rare but they have happened. Tempers flare, so much so that law enforcement presence is more about keeping the peace than enforcing fisheries regulations.


If this sounds exciting, it is. When the fishery happens along the road system it seems like half the town is parked along the shoulder where the opening is going to be. We're just spectators to this wild happening. For the people involved its more serious, its their livelihood. After the opening few minutes things settle down into a predictable flow. Its awesome to see the big tenders alongside the seiners to help them land their catch.


After a day or two there will be another opening until the quota is landed.

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