Revitalizing AK’s herring fishery focus of Friday online meeting at Kodiak

Herring was once AK's most $$ fishery but no buyers today leaves boats on the beach. No market expansion beyond Japan for 50+ years.

by | April 8, 2024

No buying interest for once lucrative fishery; State seeks new ideassend written comments by April 9

Members of the Alaska Board of Fisheries and Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission are holding a public meeting in Kodiak on Friday to review the commercial herring fishery statewide.

The review will focus on current and potential markets, differences among Alaska’s regional herring fisheries, and potential legal pathways to resolve changes to regulatory systems. Through information gained by the committee, both the board and commission may independently consider governance changes to improve the Alaska herring industry, the state said in a press release.

The meeting will start at 9am on April 12 at the ADF&G large conference room in Kodiak.

Tune in to the meeting HERE (Here is the link, if needed) https://us06web.zoom.us/j/88560329136)

By phone at (253) 215-8782  Note: this is not a toll-free number.

Webinar ID: 885 6032 9136

All relevant documents for this meeting will be posted on the Board of Fisheries website. HERE IS THE LINK

Written comments (due no later than April 9) can be submitted through the above webpage, or via mail or fax to:  

Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Boards Support Section, PO Box 115526 Juneau Alaska 99811-5526

FAX (907) 465-6094

Here is an earlier write up about the herring meeting by Steve Williams at the Kodiak Daily Mirror —

Reviving markets for commercially caught Alaska herring will be the focus of a new State of Alaska “Herring Revitalization Committee” that is being developed this month. 

The Alaska Board of Fisheries and Alaska Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission seek member nominations and research proposals for the new committee. 

If you want to take part, you better hurry. 

The deadline for nominations and research proposals is March 29 — a week from Friday — and the committee holds its first meeting to select committee advisors and initiate research plans four days later on April 2.

Starting this fall, the committee will “focus on current and potential markets, differences among Alaska’s regional herring fisheries, and potential legal pathways to resolve changes to regulatory systems. Through information gained by the committee, both the board and commission may independently consider governance changes to improve the Alaska herring industry,” the Board of Fisheries wrote in its call for nominations.

What once was Alaska’s highest-value fishery is now begging for markets. The riches-to-rags story is concisely told in the foreword to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s 2022 “Alaska Herring Market Recovery Project.” 

“Today’s primary market for Alaska’s herring emerged about 1970 when a burgeoning, post-WWII middle-class in Japan, willing to pay high prices for kazunoko (salt-cured herring eggs), became Alaska’s most valuable seafood product. Then, in 1988, the Japanese economy began a steep decline. At this, the elder population who revered Kazunoko as a traditional food lost their appetite for expensive, gift-packed Kazunoko products, and ex-vessel prices in Alaska fell from the high of $2000/ton in 1988 to $200/ton or less in 2001. Since then the price for Alaska’s sac roe herring harvest has never recovered. Today, Alaskan herring populations have spiked to levels never seen in modern times and the volume of harvestable herring far exceeds demand.” Alaska Herring Market Recovery Project, Asmi, 2022.

Sitka’s herring roe fishery in the 1980s and 1990s was one of Alaska’s last gold rush fisheries, with dozens of boats churning the waters right off the city’s road system for a share of a multi-million dollar run. 

Starting today, Sitka’s roe herring seine fleet is on two-hour notice to work a potential 81,246-ton harvest, the largest ever. But with only one buyer on the scene, the actual harvest will likely be much lower, according to Alaska Fish News. 

The 2024 Togiak herring fishery was recently canceled due to a lack of a market. Another record return year is being predicted for Kodiak’s sac roe herring fishery, which starts April 1. 

But only a few boats set out for the springtime harvest these days.

Kodiak herring fisherman and Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute Development Director Bruce Schactler wrote in comments to the Alaska Board of Fisheries in January that things have to change. 

“Most of the allowed biological herring harvest in Alaska will once again go unharvested in 2024 due to the failing market for ‘roe herring’ that has been the case for many years now. From initial quota suggestions from ADF&G, the unharvested portion will likely be over 100,000 tons! It is unclear at this time if any of the roe herring quota in Kodiak will be purchased … The need to diversify and bring new value to the herring fishery cannot be understated. New products made from herring — be it canned, pickled, or smoked — require higher fat and/or better nutrition profiles.”

Schactler calls for a fall harvest to target herring with higher fat content to better meet potential market demand. 

“People eat herring all over the world, and we need access to the fish in all stages of their life cycle,” Schactler said. “There’s a tremendous amount of stranded quota and a tremendous amount of stranded investment in herring. If you don’t have access, you can’t create a market, you don’t have anything.” 

The Herring Revitalization Committee seeks fishermen, processors, marketers and subsistence users from around the state to serve on its advisory panel.  

The committee is also seeking suggestions from the public on research topics, including investigating local, domestic, and international current and potential markets, herring physiology across regions, product development and fishery methods. 

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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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