• 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).

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• Wanton waste of deer meat, a record high herring quota and other local foods stories in the news

Over the past couple of weeks, at least 10 Sitka black tail deer corpses have been found in Sitka with lots of edible meat still on the bone but the prime cuts missing. According to the Anchorage Daily News, state wildlife officials are searching for the hunters, and wanton waste charges may be coming for those involved. There were six deer found off Green Lake Road, then four deer were found near Harbor Mountain Road five days later.

The Sitka Local Foods Network encourages the responsible and sustainable harvesting of traditional subsistence foods, such as deer, but we must respect the resource and use the entire animal. Not only is leaving edible meat in the field wasteful, but the last couple of years have been down years for deer survival and the actions of these wasteful hunters may mean fewer hunting opportunities next year for hunters who need the deer to feed their families. Anyone with information about the cases is asked to call Alaska Wildlife Troopers at 747-3254 or, to remain anonymous, Wildlife Safeguard at 1-800-478-3377.

In other local foods news, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game established a record sac roe herring quota for the 2010 season, a quota of more than 18,000 tons (more than 4,000 tons higher than last year’s then-record quota). The commercial herring fleet is very happy with the higher quota, but KCAW-Raven Radio reports local subsistence gatherers worry that the record quota will harm their ability to gather herring eggs on hemlock branches, a popular subsistence and barter food for local Tlingít and Haida residents. They also worry two straight years of record quotas will hurt the resource, since herring also serves as a key forage food for salmon, halibut, whales, sea lions and other species in the region.

The Juneau Empire reported that the State of Alaska asked for an extension to reply to an inquiry on subsistence management from the federal government. The federal government took over some management of subsistence in Alaska more than a decade ago because state laws weren’t in compliance with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which calls for a rural preference on subsistence in times of shortage, and the federal government may be expanding its role in subsistence management.

The Anchorage Daily News reported on Alaska pork being ready for the freezer at A.D. Farms, and that pork will be sold at the indoor farmers market at Anchorage’s Northway Mall. The story included a wrap-up of other local foods available at the market, and it had a recipe for crock-pot cod.

Laine Welch’s Alaska fishing column was about how more local fish is appearing in school lunch menus.

The Anchorage Daily News Alaska Newsreader feature reported on several Arctic travelers getting trichinosis from eating undercooked bear meat. The National Post of Canada also had a story on travelers eating undercooked bear meat, while the New York Times had an article about how trichinosis is common in bear meat that isn’t cooked properly.

The Anchorage Daily News had an article about how Alaska’s rhubarb probably first came from Russia.

Miller-McCune magazine had an article about how Alaska’s complex salmon politics can serve as a model for sustainable fisheries elsewhere in the world.

The Alaska Public Radio Network reported on a woman from Aniak, Dee Matter, who has taken freezing her food to a new level. The story also was on APRN’s Alaska News Nightly show.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner had a feature article about Kotzebue hunter and trapper Ross Schafer and the “Eskimo” way of life.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner had an article about a conflict between farmers and hunters over the future of the Delta bison herd.

The Juneau Empire ran a story about glaciers providing an important food source.

Anchorage Daily News garden columnist Jeff Lowenfels wrote about magazine gifts for gardeners.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran an Associated Press article about Monsanto’s role in the business of agriculture, especially the way it squeezes out competitors in the seed industry.

Finally, the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences blog featured an article about a new study about food security challenges in Alaska.