Herring shortage strikes during derby's final week

Wholesalers rationing inventory as shortfall affects West Coast

Posted: Friday, May 25, 2001

Fisherman's Bend sold its last package of bait herring Thursday night. It might have been the last herring for sale in town.

A herring shortage rumored a couple months ago has hit Juneau and apparently the rest of the West Coast in full force. None of the local stores contacted by the Empire today had herring, and some were fielding calls from people as far away as Oregon seeking the bait, prized by fishermen targeting salmon.

The shortage is bad timing for the Tlingit and Haida Central Council, sponsor of this month's Spring King Salmon Derby. Derby director Archie Cavanaugh is concerned the shortage will affect derby ticket sales, which help fund scholarships.

"It makes it more difficult for people to seriously consider going out fishing because without any bait, obviously your chances of catching a king are cut in half," Cavanaugh said. "We'll just have to become a little more creative on trolling and start falling back to spinners and hoochies and plugs."

Sport fisherman Art Sutch snapped up six packages of herring from SuperBear on Thursday night. By this morning, the grocery store's freezer was empty, too.

"We're out of herring. So is everybody in Southeast as far as I know," said Pat Shea, general manager.

Shea said he has bought bait from a wholesaler in British Columbia for two decades, but this year the herring eluded Canada fishermen. Now he's looking to Washington state, which opened a herring fishery April 15, he said.

"The herring in Washington is still too deep to catch, so they don't have a handle on whether the fishery is going to be good or bad," said Shea, who said it could take weeks before stores are stocked again.

Rick Wolfenberger of Fisherman's Bend got wind of the shortage in March and tried to stock up, but wholesalers were rationing inventory to customers, he said. The store received only 30 percent of its usual order and, in turn, limited customers to six packages a day. Wolfenberger said it could take a month to get more herring.

"Realistically I've been told the last week of June. That's been the shocker," said Wolfenberger, who is steering customers toward spoons, hoochies and plugs.

Alaskan & Proud grocery ran out last week, said meat market manager Tim Wolfe.

"In the 23 years that I've been here, I've never seen a shortage of herring like this," Wolfe said.

Charter sport fisherman Mike Bethers said he's not too worried because he stocked up on herring when the rumor of a shortage first broke. If he runs out, he'll catch some with a jig, he said.

"It's not too difficult. You take a herring jig and jig it up and down and you can catch them pretty good sometimes," Bethers said.

Local fishermen can take herring with a jig or net for personal use anywhere except Auke Bay, which is closed for herring until June 1, said Andy McGregor of the state Department of Fish and Game. Fishermen do not need a personal use permit, only a valid resident sport fishing license, he said.

"The most common way people get herring is by jigging them up because most schools of herring ... are fairly deep. They come up shallow in the springtime to spawn but generally they're fairly deep," McGregor said.

Juneau resident Kerri Tonkin said jigging didn't work for a relative in Petersburg desperate for some herring.

"My cousin that called me today was fit to be tied. Usually you can go around the docks or wherever they feed," Tonkin said. "He said there weren't any to be jigged."

Kathy Dye may be reached at kdye@juneauempire.com.

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