Purse seiners chase herring in Sitka Sound in 2017. (Photo courtesy of Troy Thynes, ADF&G).

The commercial sac roe herring fishery in Sitka Sound goes on two-hour notice Tuesday, March 20 at 7 a.m. That means the first opening could be as soon as two hours after that.

But whenever fishing opens, it won’t be the full-throttle race to the grounds as in past years. Eric Coonradt, the state biologist who manages the fishery, confirmed following a pre-season meeting in Sitka Monday, March 19 that the permit holders have agreed to fish non-competitively, and to share the proceeds.

Non-competitive fishing, sometimes called a co-op, has been done many times over the years during the Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery, usually to mop up the final few hundred tons. The last time the fishery was non-competitive from the opening bell was in 2015; prior to that, there hadn’t been a fully non-competitive fishery since the 1990s.

The guideline harvest level for this year’s fishery is just over 11,000 tons, down from the nearly 14,000 tons caught last year. The value of last year’s catch was around 4.3 dollars at the docks last year.

Purse seiners catch herring for their roe, or eggs, which are prized on Asian markets.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has been doing aerial surveys looking for herring schools and spawn in Sitka Sound. The department reported no spawn observed during a flight Sunday March 18 but reported seeing herring schools in shallower water and numerous whales feeding on them.

Monday afternoon Coonradt said that predator behavior was unusual this year. While there appeared to be large number of sea lions in the area, they were not congregating, and were difficult to count. He said that he will have to see more herring moving up from deep water before announcing an opening.

(Editor’s note: this story has been updated with information from Robert Woolsey at KCAW in Sitka)