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Southeast Winds Needed for 2012 Norton Sound Herring Fishery

Thanks to the still-lingering ice in the southern Norton Sound, this weekend will most likely be a long one for the fishermen and the buyer in the Norton Sound herring fishery.

The processors in the fishery – Icicle Seafoods – will decide Monday whether or not they’ll stick around. The Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation is ready to purchase roughly 1000 tons of herring and Charlie Lean, head of fisheries and research development for NSEDC, says signs of herring leaving the Bering Sea for the rocky coasts need to be seen SOON.

Decision point is Monday and we haven’t given up hope yet. We’re doing our southeast wind dance really hard.

That southeast wind is crucial to break free the rotten ice still lingering from Stuart Island to Unalakleet. The ice must be gone in order for herring to leave deep water to the rocky shores to spawn. Movement must take place soon because Icicle Seafoods has a date to leave the area the evening of the 19th to begin processing salmon in Bristol Bay. That means signs must show that nets can be in the water around the 14th, allowing the fishermen three or four days to deliver herring to the tenders.

Lean says two-thirds of Norton Sound herring lay their eggs on kelp between Stuart Island and Unalakleet with one-third spawning in the northern Norton Sound, west of Cape Denbigh. He says the herring usually show up first west of Cape Denbigh.

So a really good sign would be to see a mass of herring rise to the surface just west of Cape Denbigh. And that would mean we’re a day away or so from fishing.

Icicle Seafoods Western Alaska Fleet Manager Warner Lew says they are eager, poised and waiting, but the processor R.M. Thorstenson is currently on Nunivak Island and on Monday it will either have direction to point its nose north toward the Norton Sound or southeast to Bristol Bay.

Until then, managers and fishermen are hoping for the southeast wind to move the ice that’s keeping the fish from moving in. NSEDC is set to purchase 1000 tons of roe quality herring with another 100 tons for bait. Last year the fishery was worth $274-thousand to the 25 permit holders that made deliveries.