No buyers = no fishery
Alaska’s largest herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay has been cancelled due to a lack of buying interest. They fishery typically kicks off in early May.
State fishery managers made the announcement on March 20 in a release that stated: “Processors have indicated that they do not intend to harvest herring in Togiak in 2023 and there will be no commercial fishery. The department does not expect this will change.”
The Togiak fishery, which targets female herring for their roe, has a projected harvest this year of 57,419 tons (nearly 115 million pounds).
Managers said the large forecast is due primarily to the highest estimated recruitment of mature herring on record over the past three years. The majority of that population in 2023 is anticipated to be age-6 and age-7 fish, with average weights of just under 12-ounces.
The lack of interest for the roe herring fishery does not affect the Dutch Harbor food and bait fishery, which has a harvest set at 4,322 tons (8.65 million pounds). The herring spawn on kelp fishery also will continue with a harvest of 1,500 tons (3 million pounds).
The Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game said it will continue to conduct aerial surveys to assess the region’s 2023 herring biomass.
The department uses a sea surface temperature model based on temperatures near Dutch Harbor to predict the timing of the Togiak herring run. Managers also track ice coverage of the Bering Sea throughout February and March to help inform predictions in run timing. Those models predict the first herring spawn should occur at Togiak on April 29.
The Togiak herring fishery last year had an all-time record allowable harvest of 65,107 tons (over 130 million pounds). But a lack of buying interest resulted in just eight seiners taking only 15,000 tons (30 million pounds) for which they averaged $100 per ton.Nearly all of Alaska’s roe herring product goes to a single customer – Japan – where changing tastes over several decades has diminished buying interest.
There has been minimal effort in Alaska to expand buying interest to new markets.