Food Talks topic for Thursday, March 16, to be a discussion about herring

Join Sitka residents for a discussion about herring, which is the Food Talks topic for Thursday, March 16. This event takes place at 5:30 p.m. at the Sitka Public Library’s Gus Adams meeting room (in the back corner of the library near the water).

This free meeting is open to the public, and people are invited to share their stories about all aspects of herring in Sitka and Southeast Alaska. Please share your stories about subsistence harvests, commercial harvests, eating herring or herring eggs, how you feel about herring, how to maintain sustainable quotas/harvests, and more. Feel free to share photos, too. Someone may be at the meeting filming stories as part of a grant from National Geographic.

For more information, contact Nina Vizcarrondo of the Alaska Native Sisterhood Subsistence Committee at (863) 286-9230. Also, watch for upcoming announcements about the annual Sitka Herring Festival week events in April.

• Sitka Maritime Heritage Society to host a presentation on the importance of herring in Southeast Alaska

Herring is an important food source in Sitka and the rest of Southeast Alaska. Not only are there huge commercial and subsistence harvests of the fish, and it is an important food source for salmon, halibut, whales, sea lions and other animals in the region.

The Sitka Maritime Heritage Society will host the presentation “Herring: Rakes, Reduction Plants and the Fisheries: A Night of History” during its annual meeting at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 12, at Harrigan Centennial Hall.

The program features a panel discussion about the importance of herring in Southeast Alaska, from the booming commercial sac roe herring fishery to traditional gathering of herring eggs on hemlock branches. Another panel topic includes the herring reduction plants that once were scattered throughout Southeast Alaska. There also have been recent community discussions about possibly starting a whole-fish herring fishery that won’t target roe. Members of the public will be invited to share their memories of herring fishing and roe harvests. Photos and artifacts will be on hand.

For more information, contact

• Sitka Local Foods Network to host annual meeting and local foods potluck on Saturday, Jan. 29

The Sitka Local Foods Network will host its annual meeting and local foods potluck from 5-7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 29, at the Sitka Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Building, 408 Marine St.

This event is free and open to all Sitka residents. The annual meeting portion of the program will feature an update on all of our current projects, including the two new local-foods-related projects that came out of the 2010 Sitka Health Summit (planting 200 fruit trees around town and getting more local fish in school lunches). We are gearing up for the annual Let’s Grow Sitka gardening education event on Sunday, March 20; the community garden season with work parties starting in April or May; and for the upcoming Sitka Farmers Market season starting in July. New volunteers always are appreciated.

We encourage everyone to bring a favorite dish that features local foods, such as venison steaks, grilled salmon, seafood chowder, freshly baked bread and salmonberry preserves, seaweed, herring eggs and vegetables from the garden. For more information, contact Linda Wilson at 747-3096 (evenings and weekends) or

• Sitka subsistence herring egg harvest in progress

Michael Baines prepares hemlock trees and branches before they are placed in the water to catch herring spawn (Photo taken by Ed Ronco of KCAW-Raven Radio)

Michael Baines prepares hemlock trees and branches before they are placed in the water to catch herring spawn (Photo taken by Ed Ronco of KCAW-Raven Radio)

If it’s snowing in April, it probably means it’s time for the subsistence herring egg harvest in Sitka. This is one of the most important signs of spring in Sitka, especially for the Tlingít, Haida and Tsimshian people who lived in Southeast Alaska long before the first Europeans showed up.

On the KCAW-Raven Radio news Tuesday, KCAW reporter Ed Ronco reported on a trip he took with Sitka Tribe of Alaska Vice Chairman Michael Baines and his sister, Betty Baines, to place hemlock trees and branches into Sitka Sound, near Kasiana Island, to collect the herring spawn. The story link includes an audio postcard, where Michael Baines discusses the herring roe’s importance to the Native culture, and a few photos of the hemlock branches and trees being prepared. The herring eggs will collect on the branches, which will be pulled from the water a few days later, hopefully with a thick mass of roe. (Editor’s note: On Friday there was a follow-up story featuring the fishing vessel Julia Kae, skippered by Steve Demmert, which has been distributing herring eggs to local residents of Sitka and surrounding communities.)

The herring harvest is an amazing time in Sitka, because it seems like every species comes to town for the herring. There are more whales, eagles, sea gulls, sea lions, etc., around town, and even halibut and salmon are looking for meals of herring eggs. Pauline Duncan produced this Tlingít curriculum about herring geared toward younger students for the Alaska Native Knowledge Network. The blog Kiksadi News by Heen Kweix’ (Bob Gamble) tells how subsistence herring eggs are harvested and prepared (scroll down to the second item).

There also is a large commercial harvest of herring just before the subsistence herring roe harvest. The commercial harvest this year had a record guideline harvest of 18,293 tons, and finished just 550 tons short of that goal. The growing commercial harvest has put a lot of pressure on the relatively small subsistence harvest, in 2005 only 72,000 pounds (not tons) were taken out of a target range of 105,000 to 158,000 pounds. Sitka Tribe of Alaska regularly submits proposals to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (which manages both the commercial and subsistence fisheries) to increase the subsistence harvest, but the proposals have not been passed. The subsistence herring eggs are used not just in Sitka, but all over the state and they are a popular trading subsistence food (for example, a Tlingít in Sitka might swap herring eggs with an Iñupiat for caribou meat from the Kotzebue area, since caribou is an item not found in Southeast Alaska).