Sitka herring fishermen await higher price, spawning

Posted: Sunday, March 18, 2001

SITKA (AP) -- A two-pronged waiting game is under way as processors and seiners in the annual Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery negotiate over prices and biologists look for the first signs of mass spawning.

Negotiations between processors and a group representing almost all of the 51 permit holders remained at an impasse Saturday.

On Thursday afternoon the financial deliberations started to interfere with the biological management of the fishery, which traditionally has depended on a few of the seiners to volunteer for test fishing.

None of the permit holders would break ranks with colleagues who were ''standing down'' from readiness to fish, even to make a few test sets for the state Department of Fish and Game.

The lack of on-the-water sampling, along with the absence of any spawning activity in the sound, ruled out any opening by Saturday.

''We haven't been test fishing, making fishing today more and more unlikely,'' Bill Davidson, the department fishery manager, told the Sitka Sentinel.

On Wednesday the department advised the herring fleet that after 8 a.m. Thursday an opening could be called with as little as two hours' advance notice.

It was not clear how the decision to stand down would affect the fishery in the event Fish and Game should call an opening in an area with high-quality roe herring before the fishermen complete price negotiations.

Davidson said the last test-fishing results came around midday Thursday from Pirate Cove, showing a low mature roe percentage.

He said he did not believe the fleet had lost any fishing opportunities by continuing the talks.

''The fish are getting better the longer they wait, providing the fish aren't mixing with other fish that aren't ready to spawn,'' he said.

He said two aerial surveys Friday showed large schools in tight concentrations throughout Sitka Sound. But so far no spawning activity has been observed, Davidson said.

''They're not past their prime until they start spawning,'' he said.

Davidson said he hasn't changed his assessment that conditions are right for an outstanding fishery.

''I'm impressed with what I'm seeing with the schools, the size of the fish. There's a lot of promise for a really good and really valuable fishery,'' he said.

The quota this year of 10,600 tons is the third highest on record.

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