• 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 sitkamaritime@gmail.com.

Advertisements

• 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).

• Sitka Local Foods Network featured on APRN’s “Talk of Alaska” statewide call-in show about local food production

Sitka Local Foods Network President Kerry MacLane was one of the featured guests for the Alaska Public Radio Network’s “Talk of Alaska” statewide call-in show hosted by Steve Heimel on Tuesday, March 30.

The topic of Tuesday’s hour-long show was “Local Food Production.” If you weren’t able to hear the show, you can listen to it by clicking this link and then looking for the arrow above the comments box. In addition to Kerry, the other featured guest was Tim Meyers of Meyers Farm in Bethel. Some of the topics on this show included community supported agriculture (CSA) farms, spring planting, the Sitka Farmers Market, the Sitka Seafood Festival, the new Alaska Food Policy Council, sac roe herring, composting, soil conditions and other issues.

Some of the clips from Tuesday’s Talk of Alaska show were reorganized into a news feature story that ran on Wednesday’s “Alaska News Nightly” half-hour newscast on APRN. The news feature used some of Kerry MacLane’s comments about the Sitka Local Foods Network, but there were several minor errors in the story about what’s going on in Sitka.

By the way, this isn’t the first time local food has been featured on Talk of Alaska this year. In October 2009, Talk of Alaska did a show “Our Food Supply” as a preview for the Bioneers of Alaska annual conference.