Sitka herring fishery faces possible delay due to diesel spill

No test fishing or fishery will occur if risk of contamination, says ADF&G SeafoodNews.com’s Peggy Parker reports that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced it “will not open a commercial fishery or conduct test fishing in areas where there is a risk of fuel contamination of gear, vessels, or harvested fish” putting the […]

by | March 23, 2022

No test fishing or fishery will occur if risk of contamination, says ADF&G

Sitka Sound herring fishery Credit: KNBA

SeafoodNews.com’s Peggy Parker reports that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced it “will not open a commercial fishery or conduct test fishing in areas where there is a risk of fuel contamination of gear, vessels, or harvested fish” putting the Sitka Sound herring sac roe fishery on hold until that risk is eliminated. 

Around 3 a.m. Monday morning the U.S. Coast Guard received a radio call at from tugboat Western Mariner saying that while towing Chichagof Provider, a 286-foot containerized barge, in Neva Strait, the barge collided with the tug causing it to run hard aground. The collision caused a rupture to one of the tug’s fuel tanks, which contains a maximum capacity of 13,000 gallons of diesel fuel.

Neva Strait, southeast of Salisbury Sound and north of Sitka, is not adjacent to any of the locations ADF&G lists as known spawning areas of herring, but it abuts a navigation channel that could be used by vessels transiting to them. 

Accident occurred as fleet went on two-hour notice

The accident happened just hours before ADF&G’s two-hour notice for the Sitka fleet went into effect. The fleet is anticipating the largest return of herring, and the highest forecasted harvest in history. The guideline harvest level for the 2022 sac roe herring fishery is 45,164 tons, based on a 20% harvest rate of a forecast of 225,820 tons of mature herring biomass.

The Coast Guard, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and Western Towboat established a unified command Monday morning. All four crew members on the tug were safely transferred to a nearby vessel. All fuel manifolds on board the tug were secured by 6:45 p.m. on Monday and Hanson Maritime of Sitka had almost fully pumped out the 13,000-gallon capacity forward port tank by yesterday afternoon. Western Towboat’s owners, critically aware of the onset of the herring season in the area, contracted Hanson, SEAPRO, and Global Diving & Salvage to respond.

Kazunoko (herring roe) Credit: Sitka Conservation Society

A sheen was observed around the tug Monday morning, and containment measures were deployed to reduce the spread of oil. Tugs Banner and Salvation, and fishing vessel Nushagak Spirit were on the scene tending the barge, which is now anchored in Neva Strait with no impact to vessel traffic.

The Coast Guard has deployed responders to oversee response operations. Natural resource agencies are assessing potential environmental impacts, and the Coast Guard is consulting with federally recognized tribes in the area.

Yesteday’s aerial survey by ADF&G was brief and covered Sitka Sound from Makhnati Island to Krestof Sound. Weather during the flight was very poor with 45-knot winds, low overcast skies, and rain. Difficult viewing conditions affected the survey with air turbulence, many white caps, and low visibility due to rain, ADF&G reported. No herring schools or spawn were observed, but herring predators were seen — humpback whales were concentrated in Hayward Strait between Guide Island and Kamenoi Point.

The research vessel Kestrel arrived in Sitka Sound at 8:30 a.m. and began surveying for herring schools. While high winds and rough seas limited the area the R/V Kestrel could survey, numerous large schools of herring were observed in Hayward Strait.

The next aerial survey and fishery update are scheduled for today.

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About Laine

Laine Welch has covered the Alaska fish beat for print and radio since 1988. She also has worked “behind the counter” at retail and wholesale seafood companies in Kodiak and on Cape Cod.

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