…And It’s On! Sitka’s 2012 Herring Fishery Opens

31 03 2012

When Cap’n J and I walked back to the boat after our pie and coffee, we commented on how different today felt – such a palpable pulse in the air, diesel engines revving as seiners jockeyed through the harbor and steamed out, anticipating that today would be the day. And what a day… Glorious sunshine this morning, blue skies, and flat calm before tomorrow night’s gales. Perfect time for any fishery.

And sure enough, after five days of standing by on two-hour notice, the word came down today. Unable to resist the suspense, I’d spent the morning glued to the Nerka’s VHF radio. At 12:30, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game’s area management biologist Dave Gordon came on Channel 10 with the words everyone had been waiting for.

“At this time, I’d like to announce that we’ll have a fishery this afternoon at approximately 2:30 pm.” They’d just gotten the most recent test sample results, and with egg maturity ranging from 11-16%, the opening was a go. “It’s a fairly high female count, no spawn-outs and just a couple few immature fish in the mix, so it looks like good fish. Average weight was 170 grams, so it looks like big fish, as well.”

By this time, almost all of the herring fleet had long since steamed out to the grounds. The only boats remaining were the giant steel tenders, the middlemen between fully-loaded seiners and the processing plants, and they didn’t waste any time untying. Even as Dave Gordon continued to explain the boundaries of today’s opening, the procession rolled out.

I ran out to the harbor’s outer-most finger to watch an amazing stream of work boats parade by. One after another, stern to bow to stern, powering through the breakwater to the herring grounds north of town. The harbor sang with new noise, powerful engines roaring to life as their crews whooped out their pent-up tension. Someone blasted an air horn a few times. I watched a couple latecomers run down the dock, boots and raingear in hand, to jump aboard their departing boats.

I spent a long time on that outer float, watching the boats head out and considering my conflicted feelings around this fishery. Ego and excess concern me, the notion of flooding a declining market just because you can. But even with that sense of uneasy disapproval, I couldn’t resist the lure, the excitement of Go Time. One of Cap’n J’s friends referred to Sitka’s herring as “the Superbowl of fishing.” Friends, I don’t give a damn about sports, but I do love fishin’ boats and the men and women who call them home. For that reason alone, this parade was beautiful to me.

I wanted to share that sight with you. For those Hooked readers who are of this industry, I wanted you to have the opportunity to recognize some of your companeros, maybe see a boat whose deck you’d scrubbed in years past. For those land-based readers, I wondered if you could see something beautiful in these images, too, despite their foreign nature.

So I took a bunch of videos that I’m dying to share with you. Maddeningly, the harbor internet appears completely unable to handle the big files. After about an hour of gnashing my teeth, here’s one – not the best, but you get the idea. Maybe something else will work out later.

In another day or so, we should have some far superior images to share. Turns out that Cap’n J’s high school buddy Tanner runs of these tenders and was generous enough to invite him aboard to watch the show live. As many of you know, Cap’n J’s a talented photographer, and he didn’t waste any time grabbing his camera gear. The boat’s taking its load to Petersburg, so I don’t have any idea of when I’ll see my buddy again, but it’s cool – he’ll have some fantastic shots to share whenever he’s back, and I’ll share them with you as soon as I can.

The Dancer heading out, Mt. Edgecumbe looking on.

You can find opening updates on Raven Radio, and JuneauTek always has the best fisheries photos/video. Fishin’ folks, have you got any news from the grounds? Favorite sites for the latest updates? I’d love to hear your observations in the comments. Meanwhile, best wishes for everyone – fishermen, boats, ecosystem – and safe, healthy returns.


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21 responses

31 03 2012
Steffany Raynes

I love it when my in basket has a new blog post of yours. I’m so glad you are writing (and taking pictures). And how did you manage to get all the sunshine? These last two posts are thought-provoking too in terms of what we should or should not be fishing for, just because we can. Keep up the good work Tele.

3 04 2012
Tele

Well, it’s mutual, Steffany – I love seeing comments from my memoir buddies! Will definitely be thinking of you all tonight, hoping you have a wonderful return to class and enjoy each others’ stories. Hugs and best wishes to you and all.

31 03 2012
Julie Farrar

Thanks for showing us what goes into the dinner I had tonight. I appreciate the efforts you take to keep posting despite the less than ideal wi-fi situation.

3 04 2012
Tele

You’re most welcome, Julie – thanks for eating wild fish! I’m always interested in learning how others prepare their fish, and would love to hear some of your favorite recipes one of these days. As to the wi-fi… *sigh* … I need to remember a story my dad tells of a trip he made to India, where an elderly woman chided him, “You Westerners would do well to learn patience.” Definitely a virtue I could use more of, so this is a good learning opportunity! (Thank you for the appreciation.)

31 03 2012
Vivian Faith Prescott

Thanks, Tele, now you’re making really homesick. I can usually see the same harbor view from my house up above on Edgecumbe Drive. :)

3 04 2012
Tele

Oh, wow, Vivian – you’ve got a wonderful home waiting for you. Hang in there – you’ll be here (almost) before you know it!

31 03 2012
TiredofTechnology

Wonderful my friend. Your excitement for and love of fishing is contagious. Thank you for sharing your world with us landlubbers :)

3 04 2012
Tele

A pleasure, buddy. You can share your Tuesday night class world with me, and we’ll call it an even trade. :)

31 03 2012
Holly

Awesome post.

3 04 2012
Tele

Thanks, Holly! I see your boat’s here… When can we expect to see you back on the dock?

31 03 2012
Lisa W. Rosenberg

Tele, I love your posts because the seafaring life is so removed from mine and so exciting (to me). Those mountains too–I can’t believe that there’s something so beautiful and it’s just a normal part of your life!

3 04 2012
Tele

Thanks for your kindness, Lisa. You know, when I started Hooked, I wasn’t sure if these stories could be accessible (or interesting) to non-fishermen. It’s been a total delight that so many of Hooked’s readers are removed from this life, but willing to make the journey with the stories. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that.

Yes, the mountains! And the forest, the glaciers, the endless appearances of the ocean, the sunsets and sunrises… whew. Even as a normal part of life, they still leave me breathless. I’m glad to share them with you. :)

31 03 2012
Carol Lois Haywood, pacific marine artist

Beautiful pictures! Thank you!

3 04 2012
Tele

Speaking of beautiful pictures – that’s really your area of expertise, Carol. When I see boats now, since discovering your blog, I try to imagine how they’d look under your paintbrush!

4 04 2012
Carol Lois Haywood, pacific marine artist

What a neat way to compliment my art! Thank you! Maybe my chance to do them will come.

4 04 2012
Carol Lois Haywood, pacific marine artist

Thank you! I would love to come and get to work on that!

2 04 2012
(FL) Girl with a New Life

I enjoyed this video window into your life. And yes, the sound of the wind and the view of the water brought down my blood pressure.

You are such a natural storyteller, Tele.

3 04 2012
Tele

Always good to see you stop by, Tina. I’ll happily provide some water for your currently land-locked soul. :)

2 04 2012
NancyD

So that’s what sunshine looks like! Beautiful pics and great stories. Thank you Tele!

3 04 2012
Tele

Ha! And you thought I was heading up into a snowy, stormy mess! (I was a little worried about that, too… This has been unbelievable.) Here’s hoping that you get the same during your Alaskan adventure.

4 04 2012
Barbra & Jack Donachy

We’d love to get down there and see this opening… while it’s still happening. Thanks for the report!




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