Southeast Gillnetters are waiting for their spring herring harvest at Seymour Canal off Southern Admiralty Island. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game put the fishery on 2-hour notice Monday night and the research vessel Medea is on the grounds, monitoring the area with sonar and aerial surveys.

According to Biologist Kevin Monagle, the decision to put the fleet on notice was prompted by lots of marine mammal activity and a spawn in nearby Hobart Bay. Monagle was aboard the Medea in Seymour Tuesday morning when he spoke by cell-phone with KFSK radio.

“We have been seeing a fair number of sea lions and whales in the core area and Seymour approximately for a week now. Although we hadn’t seen any fish, Hobart Bay spawned Friday maybe Saturday morning. Typically the Seymour event is 3 to 5 days after Hobart. That doesn’t hold up every year but in a general sense, that’s the case. There’s obviously, just from the aerial surveys we’ve been conducting since the 16th, a large biomass of fish here just based on the number of whales and sea lions,” Monagle said.

The fishermen target the herring for their roe, so the department tries to open the fishery just before the major spawn, when the females are the ripest with eggs. Seymour is the only herring sac roe harvest slated to open for Southeast Gillnetters this year and the quota is big at nearly 13 hundred tons. However, The Department expects participation to be way down because of a poor market for the roe, which is sold as a delicacy in Japan.

As of Tuesday morning, Monagle said there were 16 boats on the grounds and he thought another five might show up. That’s less than half the fleet. It was the same situation last year when only a handful of fishermen landed far less than the 835 ton quota. The 2011 catch total was kept confidential because only one processor participated.