Managers expect a huge Togiak herring return but low harvest this season
The Togiak herring fishery opened to the purse seine fleet Wednesday, kicking off the 2022 season. The state department of Fish and Game anticipates a herring biomass of over 357,000 tons — the largest forecast since the state started using its current assessment model three decades ago.
But Tim Sands, an area management biologist with Fish and Game, said this season's harvest will likely be low. When department staff flew a survey on Tuesday, they saw lots of herring, but no fishermen yet.
“We flew, we only saw two tenders over there," Sands said. "There weren't any fishing vessels yet. I know they're on their way. Sometimes it can take several days: Just because the herring are there doesn't mean the roe is mature enough for the companies to want to harvest them.”
During the survey, staff saw large bands of herring along Cape Constantine and big schools swimming in Kulukak and Togiak bays. Herring were also seen along the coast, between Kulukak Bay and Right Hand Point. Sands said that the fish are starting to spawn, though the roe might not be mature enough to tempt harvesters yet.
“I just got a picture from somebody that there's a little bit of spawn happening in Rocky Bay," he said. "And that's kind of typical, we see the herring show up and then a little bit of spawn. And the next few days, it'll start spawning more and more.”
Over the past few days, the weather has been clear and warm. Sands says those conditions can accelerate spawning.
“The fish come into the big bays like Togiak Bay and Kulukak Bay where it's shallow and the water’s warmer, and then their eggs ripen up, and then they go from outside of those bays, to where there's better spawning habitat, where the coast is rockier, and there's either seagrass or or kelp to spawn on.”
Sands said he still doesn’t know whether any gillnetters will fish for Togiak herring this year. But the gillnetters’ 13,000-ton quota won’t be redistributed to the purse seine fishermen. Sands says he expects less than 10 purse seine vessels to fish this season. Together, the purse seine and gillnet fleets can harvest just over 65,000 tons in the sac roe fishery.
“My guess is we'll take less than 15 [tons] for sure, maybe less than 10," Sands said. "So there's no point in reallocating quota that nobody's going to catch.”
The allocation for Dutch Harbor food and bait fishery is about 5,000 tons.
The Togiak herring fishery is open until further notice. For updates, call the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at 907-842-5226.
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