A crew works to catch herring on the Petersburg seiner Providence near Craig in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Scott Walker, ADF&G)

A commercial herring spawn on kelp fishery is wrapping up near Craig on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska.

Fishermen catch herring and hold them in pounds, or net pens, in the water. The fish lay eggs on blades of kelp suspended in those pounds. Both the kelp and eggs are harvested and sold.

Herring spawn peaked around the beginning of this month. Scott Walker, area management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Ketchikan, thinks this year will around the third or fourth best spawns on record for the fishery, which started in 1992.

“The fish were fairly small out here, which we had forecasted four and five year olds,” Walker said. “It’s as intense as we’ve ever seen it. It’s been a real fun fishery to watch and just a really strong return.”

Herring spawn stretched over 14 nautical miles near Craig during the first days of April. Fish and Game reports 67 pound structures on the fishing grounds and said most had been harvested by the first week in April. Walker explains some permit holders see good herring spawn in their pounds while others are not so lucky.

“I’ve been talking to all the fishermen as they’ve been harvesting and it’s a mix,” he said. “The last group I just talked to said they did really well, as good as they’ve ever done. Yesterday I talked to a group that didn’t do that well. They said the fish just didn’t spawn in their nets. And they didn’t quite understand why. And then there’s a whole mix of in betweens. So it’ll be some time before we have a calculation as far as how many pounds of product were harvested, to give us really a sense of where the product, harvest and value and all that will be compared to past years.”

The department will be doing dive surveys to assess the spawn and help estimate the biomass of herring. Last year’s product set a record for the fishery, valued at more than 3.2 million dollars at the docks.