Alaska herring fishing season canceled due to lack of buyers

A Togiak herring vessel.

Alaska’s Togiak herring fishery has been cancelled due to a lack of buyer interest.

The fishery, which was slated to open in May in Alaska’s Bristol Bay was canceled by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The fleet of mostly seiners and drift-gillnet boats target female herring for their roe, with most of the product sold to Japan. The guideline harvest level had been set at 57,419 metric tons (MT) for 2023, up over recent years.

“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,” AFDG said in a statement. “The department will continue to conduct aerial surveys to assess the herring biomass in 2023. The lack of interest for the Togiak fishery does not impact the Dutch Harbor food and bait fishery or guideline harvest level.”

AFDG Fishery Manager Tim Sands told KDLG there has been a decline in interest since the Covid-19 pandemic began, with the number of processors buying herring dropping to one last year.

"Then the last couple of years, we've only had two processors," Sands said. "Previously, we've had four, at least, each year. So the economics of it apparently aren't penciling out for the processors, and they're making that call not to participate. And this year is the same situation."

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 2022 herring harvest in Togiak totaled just 15,000 metric tons, pulling in around USD 5 million (EUR 4.7 million), down from the record of USD 55 million (EUR 51.3 million) in 1988, with just eight seiners participating. There are also herring fisheries in Sitka and Kodiak, Alaska, with both expecting large runs this year. Sitka's harvest in 2022 was approximately 25,000 MT.

Changing tastes in Japan has resulted in diminished buying interest, and there has been minimal effort made into new markets, according to Alaska Fish News.

Photo courtesy of National Fisherman


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