Before statehood and the advent of scientific management, Southeast Alaska’s herring populations were harvested — and depleted — without much thought for the future. Herring reduction plants were numerous in the region in the early twentieth century, but the industry was short-lived. Many believe the herring population in Sitka Sound now is a fraction of what it was in those days, and wonder if herring stocks — like salmon — can be restored. A recent grant intends to launch that effort.
Just look at Raven Radio’s Facebook page. Photos of active herring spawn in Sitka Sound and hemlock branches coated with eggs are the kind of posts that go viral. It’s clear that many more than the 9,000 people that live in Sitka are herring obsessed.
“Culturally it’s important obviously as a major subsistence resource in the Sitka area but also very important in trade,” says Chuck Smythe, the Director of the history and culture department at Sealaska Heritage Institute.