Bring back herring

Posted: Thursday, February 13, 2003

Gov. Murkowski has appointed Alan Austerman of Kodiak to be his fisheries policy adviser, probably a good sound choice. I would like to see him address a particular situation that has in my opinion a profound impact on our declining salmon catch by the troll-caught fleet.

I came to Alaska in the late '40s and settled in the fishing town of Craig. At that time there was a healthy troll fleet and 50- and 60-pound kings were not uncommon. Now there has been a sharp decline statewide in that fishery. My observation is the king salmon's basic diet, herring, is all but depleted. I can remember standing on the dock in Craig when the herring were spawning and looking out at Fish Egg Island about a mile from town and the beaches looked like they were covered with snow. It was herring spawn washed onto the beach. That was the case in many Southeast locations. Even here in Juneau at the boat harbors and at Auke Bay and Indian Cove there were lots of herring, but that's all but gone now. Sitka is one of the few places in Southeast that still has a viable herring fishery.

I would like to see the state make funding available to attempt to reintroduce herring to some of their former areas. As prolific as herring are it wouldn't take that much time and effort to see if it would work. I am sure the state has many capable fishery biologists that could take this task on. As it is now salmon are forced to eat whatever there is and that includes their own young, further reducing their numbers. Other species like eagles, sea lions, halibut and other bottom fish are dependent as well.

It doesn't do any good to spend money on ad campaigns to market wild salmon if that market can't supply the product and that further invites more fish farming, the very thing we are opposed to.

My solution might be badly flawed but again it just may work. It is worth trying and could bolster a sagging fishery.

Bud Womack


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