Herring roe on kelp (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

A commercial fishery for herring eggs on kelp near Prince of Wales Island in southern Southeast Alaska is off to a quiet start this spring.

The spawn on kelp fishery near Craig and Klawock uses both open and closed pounds, or floating structures to hold kelp fronds. Herring lay eggs on that seaweed and the roe and kelp are harvested together and sold overseas as a delicacy.

Bo Meredith is the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s area management biologist for commercial fisheries in Ketchikan. He said as of the last day of March managers hadn’t observed any spawn yet in that area.

“It’s actually been very unusually quiet for this time of year,” Meredith said. “This is by far the lowest whale, predator, sea lion count that I’ve seen up to March 28 in the last 15 years. Word from the fishermen who are out there with their sounders is there’s a few fish around but not the biomass that we’re forecasting certainly.”

Herring typically spawn there in late March or early April. The fishery opened March 17. Fishermen have pounds on site but as late March did not yet have any herring in pounds. The guideline harvest level is 18,916 tons of herring, the highest it’s ever been. That follows a record setting spawn around Craig and Klawock last year.

Some of the record-setting herring spawn from 2020 near the city of Craig on Prince of Wales Island, in the top right hand corner (Photo courtesy of Whitney Crittenden/ADF&G)

Meredith said last year the department documented a total of just over 56 nautical miles of herring spawn, topping the previous record by over 20 miles.

“Now to put that in perspective one of the days, I think it was April 11th in 2020 we documented 29.7 miles in a single day,” Meredith said. “Just to kind of show you how big 2020 was, from a linear miles perspective we had more spawn in one day, almost as much spawn in one day than we had for our next highest cumulative total.”

Last year, the fishery had an ex-vessel value of over 3.2 million dollars paid for the 205 tons of roe and kelp harvested.

It’s one of two commercial fisheries open for herring roe in the region this year. The other is a sac roe fishery in Sitka Sound.