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The Sitka Tribe of Alaska (STA) is alarmed but not surprised at the recent press release by Alaska
Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) that the Sitka Sound herring stock biomass is in sharp
decline. The projected biomass of 44,237 tons is a 50 percent reduction from the 2013 post
season biomass estimate and a 70 percent reduction from the biomass observed in 2011.
ADF&G’s release states a large portion of this decline in biomass can be attributed to a
significant decrease in the number of three year old herring caught in the 2014 fishery. STA has
repeatedly expressed its concern that an abrupt and precipitous decline in ocean survival of
juvenile herring would go unrealized for years and would result in an over-exploitation of the
stock. The reality is, this decline began almost 4 years ago and is just now being incorporated
into the Age Structural Analysis (ASA) model.
Adding to this decline was the failure of the ASA model to accurately predict the 2014
preseason biomass, which resulted in an overexploitation of the stock this last season. The
2014 post season biomass estimate of 68,399 tons would have capped the GHL at 13,680 tons.
Unfortunately last year’s harvest exceeded this number by 3,277 tons or 6,554,000 pounds of
The economics of this fishery are on a downward trend similar to that of the stock’s biomass.
The 2014 ex-vessel value of $180 per ton is the lowest recorded in the last 22 years. A
significant decline in the traditional kazunoko (salted herring roe) market and an increase in the
harvest of herring throughout the Pacific have combined to make herring one of the least
valued fish per pound in Alaska. These low values reinforce the findings of the report titled
“Little Fish, Big Impact” (published by the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force from the Institute for
Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University) which indicates that forage fish, such as
herring, are worth twice as much left in the water as prey for other commercially valuable fish
as they are in direct fisheries.
The value of sac roe herring would be even lower if it wasn’t for the increase in fishmeal prices.
The decline of the Peruvian anchovy stocks combined with the increased demand for fishmeal
from fish farming operations have resulted in a three-fold increase in fishmeal prices over the
last ten years. Traditionally, the commercial value of the fishery has been in the roe, which makes up about 12 percent of the harvest by weight. The remaining 88 percent (whole males and females with roe extracted) is considered bycatch and is being turned into fishmeal which supports farmed fish operations.
In October of this year, Dr. Shingo Hamada, of the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature in Kyoto, Japan, gave a presentation to the STA Tribal Council on the history surrounding the decline of Japanese herring stocks, current marketing practices and uses of herring in Japan, and the development status of herring hatchery production. Dr. Hamada’s research indicates the sac roe herring harvested in Canada and Southeast Alaska that are shipped to China and Japan in the round, are processed to extract the roe and turn the flesh into fishmeal.
Currently ADF&G uses harvest rates ranging from 12 to 20 percent to manage the fishery. The largest harvest managed by ADF&G occurred in 2011 when 19,429 tons or 38,858,000 pounds of herring were removed from Sitka Sound. Harvests of these magnitudes undoubtedly have a negative effect on all direct and indirect users of herring. If you commercial, sport, or subsistence harvest finfish or shellfish from Southeast Alaska waters then this fishery is directly taking money out of your pocket or food off your table.
If you are part of the growing number of Alaskans who want to see this invaluable resource manage more conservatively for ALL Alaskans, you’ll have a perfect opportunity to effect change in the near future. The 2015 Southeast Alaska Board of Fisheries meeting will be held in Sitka at the end of February. This meeting provides you with an opportunity to provide oral and/or written testimony to the Board on your desire to see this resource managed more conservatively. There are a few proposals that support more conservative management of herring in Sitka and throughout of Southeast. These conservation proposals are contrasted by industry sponsored proposals that would remove existing conservation measures. If you would like to know more about the Board of Fisheries comment process or the proposals that could impact the management of herring contact STA’s Resource Protection Director Jeff Feldpausch at (907)747-7469 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.