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Herring spawn-on-kelp fishery set to start

Daily News Staff Writer

One of Southeast Alaska’s more unusual commercial fisheries — herring spawn-on-kelp — is expected to have a strong season following its opening later this month.

This past week, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game released the fishery’s guideline harvest level for the 2018 Craig/Klawock-area fishery, southern Southeast Alaska’s only SOK fishery. The GHL is set for 1,667 tons, a big improvement over 2017’s 348-ton harvest level.

The fishery takes place in Section 3-B, specifically in the San Alberto Bay, west of Craig and Klawock. This year’s area has been expanded, and its boundaries will be described in detail later in this story. By regulation, the season opens March 17 and will close by May 10.

Herring spawn-on-kelp is a food product consisting of herring eggs that are laid on, and eaten with, kelp. The primary market is Japan, where the spawn-on-kelp is cut into small pieces and eaten plain or used in sushi.

Fishermen use large pens called pounds to create the product. Herring that are ready to spawn are collected via purse seine and deposited into the pound. Then the fishermen lower racks of macrocystis kelp leaves into the pound. The herring are released after laying their eggs on the leaves, and the spawn-on-kelp is sold to local processors.

According to Justin Breese, a Ketchikan-area assistant management Biologist for the department, 2017’s harvests were limited due to a low predicted herring levels in the area. The department subsequently closed the fishery to groups with fewer than six fishermen working together in an effort to limit harvests.

Breese said that 2018’s harvest limits are up largely because the department is expecting more herring in the area. He attributes the increase in predicted returns to favorable ocean conditions.

“I don’t believe that the fisheries are necessarily the huge driver for herring populations in the region,” Breese said. “Really it’s more about what [the herring are] getting to eat — that’s probably one of the major drivers for survivability from year to year.”

A news release from the department defines the Craig-Klawock herring spawn-on-kelp area as “in Section 3-B, the waters of the Gulf of Esquibel, San Alberto Bay, Shinaku Inlet, and San Christoval Channel south of the latitude of the northernmost tip of Saint Phillips Island at 5539.31′ N. latitude, east of a line from the northernmost tip of Saint Phillips Island to the northernmost tip of Point Garcia at 5533.65′ N. latitude, 13326.47′ W. longitude, and north of a line from Entrance Point to the southernmost tip of Clam Island to the southernmost tip of Fern Point and east of 13320′ W. longitude.”

The release also states that spawn-on-kelp fisheries in Ernest Sound, Tenakee Inlet, and Hoonah Sound will be closed.

More information can be found in the department’s news release at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/applications/dcfnewsrelease/892104649.pdf.