The largest herring fishery in Alaska waters is a few short weeks from getting underway. Two looming questions are whether the season will start earlier than predicted and what value the Togiak herring will fetch in the market.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game tracks southeast Bering Sea surface temperatures and sea ice trends to predict when the maturing herring will head for their spawning grounds.
“Our model, which came out mid-March with the outlook, predicted a first harvest of May 10,” said Matt Jones, an assistant area management biologist for the Nushagak and Togiak commercial fishing districts. Jones said there is always a lot of speculation as to whether the herring season will be early or late, and perhaps more speculation this year following the mild winter. “A lot of us believe the first harvest will be a little before May 10, but we’re sticking with that model.”
Earlier this year, seven companies planned to buy Togiak herring, but Ocean Beauty has taken its name off the list. The remaining buyers are Togiak Fisheries, Icicle, Trident, Yard Arm Knots, Leader Creek, and Silver Bay Seafoods. For Silver Bay, the Togiak herring season will offer a crucial first test of its operations ahead of its much-anticipated entry into the Bristol Bay salmon fishery.
As of April 15, Fish and Game estimates a daily processing capacity of a little under 3,000 tons of herring, but Jones said that could change. “Of the six buyers, a few seem to be downsizing their herring operations to some degree,” he said.
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