Sitka Tribe of Alaska and partners celebrate fifth annual Sitka Herring Camp

A Mount Edgecumbe High School student examines herring gills under a microscope. (Photo courtesy of Bethany Goodrich)

Students in Sitka schools have been diving deep into the study of herring during Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s fifth annual Herring Camp. The Herring Camp programming was centered on the cultural and ecological importance of Pacific herring and timed to coincide with the arrival of herring in Sitka Sound. Sitka Tribe of Alaska staff spent a week at both Mount Edgecumbe High School and Sitka High School studying herring anatomy and collecting oceanographic data. Sitka Tribe of Alaska staff also examined marine food webs with Blatchley Middle School and will present a “Herring in the Hallways” microscopy event at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School next week.

A Sitka High School student collects plankton aboard a Sitka Herring Camp research cruise. (Photo courtesy of Tara Racine)

Students and teachers have responded positively to the herring programming. Chohla Moll, MEHS science teacher said, “The STA Herring Camp curriculum is an amazing integration of science and traditional ecological knowledge. It illustrates to students the strong connection between the knowledge of their elders and the scientific information they are learning in school.”

The purpose of Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s Herring Camp is to invest in youth skills, providing students with hands-on science experience and exposing them to Alaska-based career opportunities. Kyle Rosendale, Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s Fisheries Biologist said, “We hope students will gain a greater understanding and appreciation of their local ecosystems and be motivated to become the next generation of stewards for important cultural and ecological resources like herring.”

Students who participated in the Herring Camp learned scientific techniques, gained exposure to traditional ecological knowledge, and connected with Sitka professionals working on natural resource management. The week-long high school camp sessions included dissection labs, discussions on cultural connections and herring ecology, oceanographic and morphometric data analysis, an introduction to fisheries management techniques, career path discussions, and a research cruise during which students applied a variety of field observation and data collection skills.

Herring provide a rich topic of study for local students. Sitka Sound is the last remaining population of herring in the state that consistently provides a significant subsistence herring egg harvest. Sitka herring eggs are shared widely throughout Alaska. Herring are a forage fish and a critical part of the marine food web, providing food for other important species such as lingcod, coho salmon, king salmon, halibut, sea lions and humpback whales. Coastal archeologist Iain McKechnie called herring the “central node of the marine ecosystem”, adding “they aren’t the base, they aren’t the top, but they are the thing through which everything else flows.

Herring Camp (aka, Yaa Khusgé Yaaw Woogoo, or Knowledge of Herring Camp) was started in 2014 and was originally held at Sitka National Historical Park. Now in its fifth year, the Herring Camp has grown to reach classrooms in four local schools and is made possible through collaboration with MEHS, the Sitka School District, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, the US Forest Service, the National Park Service, the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus, the Sitka Conservation Society, the Sitka Sound Science Center, and Allen Marine. Rosendale explains, “Collaboration is absolutely critical to the success of Herring Camp; we couldn’t do it without our collaborators, all of whom have made important contributions to herring outreach and education in Sitka.”

Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s work with Blatchley students was also a part of another community collaboration on herring and food webs. In addition to working with Sitka Tribe of Alaska staff, BMS science teacher Stacy Golden also planned lessons with Charlie Skulkta, Jr., St. Lazaria National Wildlife Refuge, the Alaska Raptor Center, and a boat trip to St. Lazaria.

Financial support for this initiative was generously provided the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Alaska Conservation Foundation.

This year’s camp is held in loving memory of Michelle Ridgeway of Oceanus Alaska. Michelle was a passionate scientist and youth educator. She helped get the Herring Camp off the ground in 2014 and was an integral part of the camp every year until her passing in January of 2018. Her creativity and enthusiasm are deeply missed.

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Sitka Tribe of Alaska to host annual Sitka Herring Festival Community Potluck on April 12

The Sitka Tribe of Alaska will host the annual Sitka Herring Festival Community Potluck Dinner at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 12, at Harrigan Centennial Hall, and will celebrate the cultural and ecological importance of Pacific herring.

The potluck is open to the community — please feel free to invite anyone you think may be interested. Please bring a dish to share.
The event also will feature talks on recent work on herring genetics and traditional ecological knowledge by Dr. Lorenz Hauser and Eleni Petrou of the University of Washington. Dr. Hauser will present “What can population genetics do for herring management?” and Ms. Petrou will present “Genetics and traditional ecological knowledge detect herring diversity in Puget Sound.”
Dr. Hauser is a Professor with the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and Principal Investigator of the Marine Population Genomics Lab at UW. In addition to his work on herring genetics in Puget Sound, Dr. Hauser has also collaborated with the Alaska Salmon Program to estimate reproductive success of sockeye salmon. Ms. Petrou is a Ph.D. student in Dr. Hauser’s lab and her interests include investigating marine connectivity and exploring the impacts of human activities on marine ecosystems. She is integrating traditional ecological knowledge into her study of the population genetics of Pacific herring.
For a bit more context, here is a brief article on Dr. Hauser and Ms. Petrou’s work with herring population genetics and traditional ecological knowledge, https://wsg.washington.edu/elder-memories-ancient-dna-and-the-fate-of-the-herring-2/.
For more information, contact fisheries biologist Kyle Rosendale of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Resources Department at 747-7241.

Third annual Sitka Herring Festival kicks off March 18 with month of events

 

Events_List

Spring is right around the corner in Sitka, and nothing says spring in Sitka like the arrival of the herring. The Sitka Tribe of Alaska‘s third annual Sitka Herring Festival kicks off on Friday, March 18, with a month of fantastic event for adults and kids alike.

This year the festival kicks off at 11 a.m. on Friday, March 18, with the Blessing of Herring Rock (Yaaw T’eiyí) in front of the Sheet’ka Kwáan Naa Kahídi. Herring Rock is a cultural landmark of the Kiks.ádi clan, and a member of the clan leads this annual ceremony. Please note this event date and time have changed since first announced.

Derby FlyerFor those kids who like a little competition, there’s the Sitka Herring Derby. As in previous years, the Herring Derby will be a fun event for kids and parents. The Derby starts on Saturday, March 19, and continues through Saturday, April 9. Weigh your biggest fish every day (from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday through Friday and from 3-6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday) at the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Resources Production Office at 429 Katlian Street. May the best (biggest) fish win. The awards ceremony will be April 12 at Blatchley Community Swim Pool.

Also on Saturday, March 19, is a herring-themed Discovery Days program at the Sitka Sound Science Center. Discovery Days is a youth educational program from 10 a.m. to noon that meets every other Saturday, and this event will feature Sitka Herring Festival coordinator Jessica Gill discussing the life cycle of herring.

The Sitka Whalefest and Sitka Sound Science Center will host the annual food web cruise fundraiser for the Whalefest from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, March 26. This is an Allen Marine harbor cruise that usually features some of the best whale-watching of the spring. The cost is $55 per person, which includes a light breakfast spread. Tickets are available at Old Harbor Books.

This year’s Wearable Arts Show, sponsored by the Greater Sitka Arts Council, will feature a new attraction as local artists team up to dedicate a piece about the growing problem of waste in our oceans.

On April 1, is the ArtiGras Art Walk and logos are due for local high school students to submit their Sitka Herring Festival logo designs. In addition to the usual art found in Sitka galleries and businesses during the art walk (hosted by the Greater Sitka Arts Council), the Sheet’ka Kwáan Naa Kahídi will host a variety of community artists and herring dishes from around the world from 5-8 p.m. on Friday, April 1.

Also like last year, Sitka Community Schools will host the Herring Fun Run. The run will start at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 2, and will feature a couple of loops of the totem trails at Sitka National Historical Park. Herring swim in schools, so bring your friends.

The Sitka Herring Festival community potluck is from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday, April 7, at Sweetland Hall at the Sheldon Jackson Campus. Bring a dish to share. The guest speaker, Ilona Kemp-Noordeloos, is a PhD. student at University of Alaska Fairbanks who will give the presentation, “Herring and the Human Element in the Bristol Bay Fisheries.”

More info for all these events can be found online at http://sitkaherringfestival.wordpress.com or at the festival’s Facebook page. Or you can email sitkaherringfestival@gmail.com or call 747-7168 for info.

• 2016 Sitka Herring Festival calendar of events

• Sitka Herring Festival logo contest rules and entry form

• 2016 Sitka Herring Festival Kids’ Fishing Derby flier

• Second annual Sitka Herring Festival kicks off March 16 with month of events

Festival Flyer

You feel it in the air; you see it in the lengthening days; you smell it with the changing tides. That’s right, herring season (and Spring!) is right around the corner. And with the arrival of the herring comes the Sitka Tribe of Alaska‘s second annual Sitka Herring Festival, a month of fantastic event for adults and kids alike.

First, for the adults. This year, we’ve been able to bring an excellent speaker from Stonybrook University in New York thanks to a generous donation from Sealaska. At the community potluck from 6-9 p.m. on Tuesday, April 7, at Harrigan Centennial Hall, Dr. Ellen Pikitch will present on herring management and conservation throughout the world. Dr. Pikitch was one of the leading scientists on the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force, is a pioneer in ocean conservation, and is a leader in ecosystem-based management of fisheries. This event will be a potluck style, so please bring a dish to share. We’re very excited to have her here during the herring season.

In addition to the community potluck, there will be a talk at the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus from Dr. Shingo Hamada. Dr. Hamada is an anthropologist at the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature in Kyoto, Japan. His talk will be on Herring Fisheries and Food Culture in Japan. Mark your calendars for 7:30 p.m. on Monday, March 23, in UAS Sitka Campus Room 218. This is a partnership from the Natural History Seminar Series with UAS and the Sitka Sound Science Center. All are welcome, but be sure to bring your questions.

But what would a festival be without fun activities for the kids? This year’s festival will also include Yaa Khusgé Yaaw Woogoo — The Knowledge of Herring Camp, hosted by the Sitka School District and the Outdoor Foundation, in partnership with Sitka Tribe of Alaska and Sitka National Historical Park. This is a free, hands-on spring break camp connecting kids to culture that will take place from March 16-20 at Sitka National Historical Park. Middle school youth (grades 6-8) are welcome and encouraged to participate in this free camp. More information can be found at Sitka National Historical Park. Feel free to or pick up an application at the main office of STA or at the Sitka National Historical Park Visitor Center.

Derby FlyerFor those who like a little competition, there’s the Herring Derby and the Herring Run. Like last year, the Herring Derby will be a fun event for kids and parents. The Derby starts on Friday, March 20, and continues through Monday, April 6. Weigh your biggest fish every day (from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Monday through Friday and from 5-7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday) at the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Resources Production Office at 429 Katlian Street. May the best (biggest) fish win. Also like last year, Sitka Community Schools will host the Herring Run. The run will start at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 4, at Harrigan Centennial Hall and will wind through the Totem Park trails before returning to Centennial Hall. Herring swim in schools, so bring your friends.

There will be more fun and educational events during the Festival, including a 4-H class through Sitka Conservation Society, Herring in the Hallway at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School, Discovery Days at the Sitka Sound Science Center, and the showing of a herring film showing at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 27, and at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 28, at the Sitka National Historical Park  For the dancers among us, there will also be a Herring Hop from 6-11 p.m. on Saturday, March 28, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Fellowship Hall. The Herring Hop is a fundraiser for the Cape Decision Lighthouse Society. The Herring Festival will also feature a Food Web Cruise on Saturday, March 21, as a fundraiser for another fantastic festival, the Sitka Whalefest.

More info for all these events can be found online at http://sitkaherringfestival.wordpress.com or at our Facebook page. Or you can email sitkaherringfestival@gmail.com or call 747-7168.

• 2015 Sitka Herring Fest calendar of events

• Sitka Tribe of Alaska to host inaugural Sitka Herring Festival on March 17 to April 12

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HerringBranchesThe inaugural Sitka Herring Festival will feature a variety of events from March 17 through April 12, when the herring return to Sitka to spawn. The event is sponsored by the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Resource Protection Department.

“The festival is a collaborative event to promote the importance of Pacific herring on the ecosystem and the culture of Sitka and the North Pacific Ocean,” event coordinator Jessica Gill said. “A few events to note are: kids’ herring derby, herring dip, fish printing, an educational unit in the schools, and a community potluck scheduled for April 4th. I am currently working on bringing in a scientist from Oxford to give a talk on herring for the potluck, but that will be dependent of funding.”

HerringFestSchedule of Events2Among the scheduled events include a blessing of herring rock on a day TBA, the Yaa Khusgé Yaaw Woogoo herring camp for middle school students from March 17-21 at Sitka National Historical Park, a herring fishing derby for kids ages 2-17 from March 23-April 4, a herring class for the Alaska Way of Life 4-H club on March 28, a herring splash swimming event on March 29, a community potluck dinner on April 4, the herring community school fun run on April 5, and a Discovery Days event on April 12 at the Sitka Sound Science Center.

To learn more, please contact Jessica Gill at 747-7168 or by email at sitkaherringfestival@gmail.com. In addition to the event’s new website, there is a Facebook page.

HerringFestDerby Flyer 2014

• Sitka Herring Festival to host benefit dinner on Sunday, Nov. 17

Herring_Fest_Flyer

The inaugural Sitka Herring Festival will host a benefit dinner at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 17, at the Sitka Elks Club.

The Sitka Herring Festival will take place in the spring of 2014, when the herring return to Sitka to spawn. The event is sponsored by the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Resource Protection Department.

“The festival is a collaborative event to promote the importance of Pacific herring on the ecosystem and the culture of Sitka and the North Pacific Ocean,” event coordinator Jessica Gill said. “A few events to note are: kids’ herring derby, herring dip, fish printing, an educational unit in the schools, and a community potluck scheduled for April 4th.  I am currently working on bringing in a scientist from Oxford to give a talk on herring for the potluck, but that will be dependent of funding.”

To learn more, please contact Jessica Gill at 747-7168 or by email at sitkaherringfestival@gmail.com. In addition to the event’s new website (still under construction), there is a Facebook page.

• Sitka herring researcher Heather Meuret-Woody makes her case for better management

(EDITOR’S NOTE: On Tuesday, May 15, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska hosted the Sitka Herring Summit to discuss issues regarding the management, or mismanagement, of herring stocks in Southeast Alaska. Sitka herring researcher Heather Meuret-Woody made this presentation, which also appeared as a shorter letter to the editor in the Daily Sitka Sentinel on May 18. The opinions expressed are Heather’s alone, though the Sitka Local Foods Network has written letters supporting the Sitka Tribe of Alaska in its bid to get the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to reduce the commercial quota for herring in Sitka Sound.)

Sitka Sound Herring Summit

May 15, 2012

Heather Meuret-Woody

Sitka Sound Herring Researcher

I have been a Sitka Sound herring researcher for about 10 years. I have decided to share my few thoughts on the Sitka Sound herring population. With this said, in my opinion there was not 144,143 tons of the predicted mature herring biomass returning to Sitka Sound. An overestimate of the biomass seems to be the suspect.

Managers of forage fish know that traditional stock management techniques do not work well with forage fish. The reason for the failure of traditional stock assessment techniques is that the “catchability” of forage fish increases as the stock declines. However, due to the schooling nature of forage fish and their vulnerability to modern acoustics and fishing gear, catch rates remain constant, even when the stock is rapidly falling in size (Beverton, 1990). Thus declines in stock size will not be apparent to managers or to the fishing industry, based on catch per unit effort statistics. Management of forage fish stocks requires direct measurement of stock size. This can be accomplished by surveying fish abundance during the spawning season, or by conducting scientifically designed acoustic surveys of schools of forage fish. Failure to monitor the stock directly will result in the inability to determine changes, even severe declines, in forage fish abundance. With that said, ADF&G does not measure the Sitka Sound herring stock directly. They may do acoustic surveys and aerial surveys but the data is not used for determining stock size in the ASA model. ADF&G relies almost entirely upon spawn deposition estimates to determine the spawning biomass. Hebert, 2010 states, “Estimates of total egg deposition on Macrocystis kelp may be highly variable, and transects that cross Macrocystis kelp beds could result in very high egg deposition estimates, resulting in high uncertainty around total estimates of egg deposition.” ADF&G also notes in this report that they have issues with diver calibration. One diver may visually estimate more or less eggs compared to another diver. Individual calibration factors can have a potentially large impact on spawn deposition estimates of biomass.

Accurate and regular estimates of fecundity are important for “ground-truthing” assumptions used by ADF&G. Fecundity estimates are used to convert estimates of herring egg deposition into mature biomass, and is used quite commonly among world-wide herring managers. ADF&G has only measured fecundity 4 times since the 1970s (Hulson et al., 2008). Since then, they just estimate fecundity based on weights, so large female herring lay approximately 40,000 eggs and small female herring lay approximately 20,000 eggs. Using un-validated parameters is extremely risky. For example, a 10% change in the egg per gram measurement used to convert spawn to fish, can result in a 20% change in the number of fish estimated.

In 2007, 2008, and 2009, spawning herring were sampled for Ichthyophonus prevalences in Sitka Sound. The results showed that 27% – 40% were positive for Ichthyophonus. All of this data is provided by Hershberger, Winton, and Purcell, from USGS Marrowstone Marine Field Station. The results of the 2010 and 2011 data from this ongoing research were not available at the time of this letter. Sitka Sound herring have had the Ichthyophonus disease for years and ADF&G has not incorporated this data into their current management. The ASA model does not account for disease, just “natural mortality.” However, this “natural mortality” is not based on observed data, but has been estimated by picking a random, but “conservative” number and applying it to the herring stock.

Sitka Sound herring follow the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) which is a 14-year oscillatory cycle and is highly correlated with an annual index of zooplankton biomass. Strong negative values of the PDO were observed in autumn 2011: “If these values persist through winter and early spring 2011-2012, they could result in the best ocean conditions observed in decades,” according to the 2011 annual update for the Ocean Ecosystem Indicators of Salmon Marine Survival in the Northern California Current research project, which has been ongoing since 1998. Additionally, “These negative values are expected to continue into spring 2012, which suggests that the northern North Pacific Ocean will also remain cold through spring 2012, giving rise to continuation of good ocean conditions.” So it is hard to imagine with this optimal ocean condition that Sitka Sound herring experienced mass mortality since last year. This winter we experienced the Arctic Oscillation which is essentially a pressure pattern that drives the jet stream, and controls how strong its winds are and where the jet stream position is. This winter, the jet stream trough, which tends to push the jet stream far to the north, helped drive storms into Alaska.

From 2006-2010, ADF&G has been trying to convince the public that the Sitka Sound herring had changed their maturation rates. They claimed that the herring were maturing later. Instead of herring reaching maturity at age-3 and age-4 they were not maturing until age-5, age-6, and age-7. Of course this was not actual observed data. ADF&G did not base this on ovarian histology or anything concrete, instead the changes were based on a number estimate to make the ASA model fit the data rather than using field data to fix the model. No other herring stocks along the Pacific Coast have herring delaying maturation, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Sitka’s herring are maturing at their usual rate. Additionally, ADF&G claimed that the herring were surviving longer, and the survivability rate they have been using is 87%. Again this was not based on anything managers actually observed, but was again a random number forced to make the ASA model fit the data. Even Hebert, 2010 states “External estimates of age-specific survival would improve the ASA model and provide more accurate forecasts of spawning biomasses.” If the Sitka Sound herring actually had 87% survivability rate, then the only way herring could have died was to be eaten by a predator or get caught in a purse seine net.

In 2008, I did a co-study with the ADF&G Age Determination Laboratory in Juneau. ADF&G collected 50 herring from the winter bait fishery and aged the herring via scale reading. I then received those 50 herring and aged them via otolith aging – and this is not the break and burn method, this is the thin-sectioning method that is widely recognized world-wide and even used by the California Department of Fish and Game on herring stocks. The herring aged via otolith actually aged 2 years younger on the average than the scale aging methodology. If you recall, ADF&G announced 12/16/2010 that their aging assessments were wrong for the period of 1999-2010. Once they re-aged all of the archived samples, they too came up with an average of 2 years difference. Additionally, because the ASA model used by ADF&G to forecast the mature biomass requires a long time series of reliable age estimates, the department chose not to use the ASA model, but instead relied on a biomass accounting model to forecast the 2011 Sitka Sound mature herring population.

Significant fisheries-induced evolutionary change has been researched in Norway in Baltic herring and has lead to the entrainment hypothesis: an explanation for the persistence and innovation in spawning herring migrations and life cycle spatial patterns (Petitgas et al. 2006). This research is quite intriguing and deserves more consideration. In 2008, the commercial fishery occurred along the entire Kruzof Island shore line in very shallow water. While the herring schools were being fished upon, a large percentage of the spawning biomass seemed to avoid the purse seiners and hit the first shoreline available, Kruzof, and spawned. Now if you review ADF&G spawn maps that go back to 1964 you will know that there has been less than 15 times that the herring biomass used the Kruzof shoreline as spawning habitat. The Kruzof Island shoreline is not very suitable spawning habitat as newly hatched larvae would be swept up in the currents and advected out of Sitka Sound, causing low survivability (Sundberg, 1981). However, if herring spawn on the islands, i.e. Middle Island, Kasiana, or along the road system, the currents in Sitka Sound keep the hatched larvae in the inner bays and water ways which are excellent for retention and increases survivability. Keeping in mind that herring recruit into a mature cohort at around age-4, the 2008 commercial sac roe fishery may have reduced the amount of recruits that we would have seen this year in 2012. Unfortunately we will never know because ADF&G does not measure immature herring. I have researched juvenile herring populations in Sitka Sound for several years and found that one of the most important rearing areas is along the Halibut Point Road shoreline from Katlian Bay and Nakwasina in the north to Halibut Point Marine and Cove Marina in the south (Meuret-Woody and Bickford, 2009). Unfortunately, the new dock at Halibut Point Marine will soon become a place for net pen-rearing of hatchery salmon smolts – with no consideration on the impacts it could have on juvenile herring populations.

Finally I’d like to point out that ADF&G staff has been quoted saying that herring only seem to spawn in Salisbury Sound when there is such a large biomass that extra spawning habitat is needed. So basically they claim Salisbury Sound is a spill-over spawning habitat, although they have no data to support this assertion. If this were actually true, based on biomass size, then where was the huge spill-over of spawning biomass in Salisbury Sound in 2011 and 2012 – both of which were huge forecast biomass years? In my published paper, Identifying Essential Habitat (Source vs. Sink Habitat) for Pacific Herring in Sitka Sound Using Otolith Microchemistry (Meuret-Woody and Bickford, 2009) it appears that Salisbury Sound actually supports a small discrete population of herring (10%), separate from Sitka Sound herring. Salisbury Sound may also be a source population for Hoonah Sound, supplying approximately 14% of the population for Hoonah Sound. Why doesn’t ADF&G rely on published data instead of relying on guesses made by their managers?