Sitka’s lucrative herring fishery goes on two-hour notice as of 8 a.m. Thursday (3-20-14). That means fishing could start as soon as Thursday morning, depending on whether test samples taken by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game find a high enough percentage of mature roe, or eggs, in the fish.
Seiners say this year’s quota, at over 16,000 tons, is high. The quality of the fish, in test samples, is good. What worries them is the market.
“The clear thing is, is it’s a very, very, very poor, if not the poorest market situation I’ve ever seen,” said Jamie Ross, of Homer, who has been fishing herring in Sitka since 1993. ”It’s an extremely poor market situation.”
By the the time the fishery is about to open, Ross said, the fleet usually has an advance price from processors. In recent years, that’s been about $400 to $500 per ton. That price is then sometimes adjusted up — last year, fishermen ended with a final price around $600 per ton. In 1996, seiners saw their highest price ever, at over $1700 per ton.
But this year, Ross said, fishermen haven’t received any advance price. And that has him worried.
“You know, I’m not willing to come out of this fishery with no price,” he said. “I mean I can’t, I can’t afford that. I think that it’s an incredibly scary situation for all of us. And the processors are a really tough position…So we have to move forward while these fish are ripening up, which could be tomorrow, and you know, oh my gosh, what do we do? So we’re trying to come up with some ideas that maybe we could help reduce the processors’ risk.”