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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.

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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

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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

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(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?

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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 sitkamaritime@gmail.com.

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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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Salmon ready for canning in jars (Photo courtesy of University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service)

Salmon ready for canning in jars (Photo courtesy of University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service)

The Sitka Seafood Festival steering committee will meet at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 1, at the Sitka Economic Development Association (SEDA)/Greater Sitka Chamber of Commerce office on the second floor of the Troutte Center Building on Lincoln Street (above Seasons card store).

The meeting agenda will finalize the event’s mission statement and the vision for the festival, set committee members and leads, and take care of other business related to creating a new festival of this nature. The Sitka Seafood Festival tentatively is scheduled for Friday through Sunday, Aug. 6-8, at various locations in Sitka.

Notes from the March 24 meeting and an initial breakdown of committees are attached as PDF documents. For more information about the festival, contact Alicia Peavey at alaska_al33@hotmail.com or 1-928-607-4845. (Editor’s note: The next meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, April 5, at Harrigan Centennial Hall.)

Notes from March 24, 2010, Sitka Seafood Festival steering committee meeting and vision session

Sitka Seafood Festival committees

Kerry MacLane grills black cod for the Alaska Longline Fisherman's Association booth at the Sitka Farmers Market

Kerry MacLane grills black cod for the Alaska Longline Fisherman's Association booth at the Sitka Farmers Market

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