On Sunday, March 22, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) issued a 15-minute sac roe herring fishery in Hayward Straits for a season opener that produced approximately one-fifth of the allotted quota for 2009. This is, after all, what all those pretty play-ahz really came to town for, right?!
Prior to any fishery being called, the Department weighs the factors that determine whether to call a fishery or not. The bulk of this burden rests squarely on the shoulders of the Area Management Biologist (AMB), who, right about now, must be popping Prilosec like they are Pez.
One of the primary considerations that the AMB assesses in making the ultimate call to fish is to determine precisely where the best selection of biomass is dispersed with regard to depth and area (in order to preclude a duplication of last year’s snafu wherein approximately 2/3 of the quota was taken in one area in one hour). In this context, best selection refers to the percentage of roe to percentage of body weight. As of this writing, today’s test sets yielded roe percentages as high as 12.3%, far surpassing the industry standard of 10%. In other words, these are money fish.
An additional feature of this opening encompasses record numbers of early-season humpback whales in the vicinity. As the skittish herring come gushing into the Sound, these great leviathans irreverently glide through the schools with gaping big mouths and little regard for seine nets. An abundance of whales only increases the odds of injudicious encounters in an already precarious scenario.
Some of the other elements that must be factored into the AMB making the final call include gauging prevailing and upcoming weather patterns; skillfully assessing the consequences of pissing off subsistence-area users by calling a fishery too close to traditional usage areas; weighing the wiles of the Japanese market; and finally, pondering the daily freezing capacity of area processors.
Essentially, what the AMB has to do is a juggling act of colossal proportions before an audience of itinerant and feisty fishermen, pesky processors, crafty buyers, eagle-eyed tribal councils, ambitious biologists, and the various ever-vigilant enforcement agencies that lurk in the shallows. That said, WSW recommends that should you wish to pay tribute to this Hero of Herring, forget the antacid. Send a fruit basket or a subscription to Palm Springs Life.
*Photo of mondo herring set compliments of Alchemist Seafoods. Thanks, Dave!