Herring in a floating pound (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

A lucrative commercial fishery for herring eggs on kelp is opening as expected near Craig and Klawock on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska this spring.

Fishermen catch herring and deposit them into floating pens called pounds along with kelp fronds. The herring lay eggs on the kelp and that’s harvested, eggs and kelp together, and sold as a delicacy.

Last year was a big haul for the fishery, worth 3.3 million dollars at the docks. And this year has the potential to be bigger. The total allocation for the season is over ten thousand tons of herring.

“A few years ago there was a little bit of an expansion of the area because the fish seem to spawn further north further away from Craig than normal but that didn’t occur this past year,” said Justin Breese, assistant area management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Ketchikan. “Because there was so many miles of spawn and the spawning event was kind of extended over there, it was pretty easy for people to get their fish last year. And I would anticipate it seems like there’s a lot of herring around out there so it should be a pretty decent year.”

Because of the forecast for a strong return, there are no requirements for permit holders to share pounds as there have been in other seasons. The fishery is also at its maximum allocation for amount of kelp that fisherman can suspend in those pounds.

The only other commercial herring fishery in Southeast, a sac roe fishery in Sitka Sound is not expected to open because of size and marketability of the spawning fish and coronavirus impacts on markets. However, Breese does not think herring eggs harvested in the spawn on kelp season will be impacted by those factors.

“The product that’s harvested over in Craig tends to be, it’s 100 percent salt water brined and it’s stored refrigerated and they grade it and it takes quite a bit of time for it to reach its actual market,” Breese said. “So typically we don’t get information on price until after they sell the product and that’s typically in August or September that we start seeing price information. Since this is such a long-term thing getting it to market I don’t anticipate that it will be affected by what’s going on right now.”

Herring typically start spawning around the end of March. Last year 140 permit holders fished. The average price for eggs on kelp the past two years has been around eight dollars a pound.