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Norton Sound Herring Bait Harvest Breaks 10-Year Record

Norton Sound Seafood Products in Unalakleet

The Norton Sound herring bait fishery has seen the best harvest numbers since at least 2008.

That’s according to Justin Leon, Norton Sound assistant area manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G). Over 80 tons of fish have been taken as of Tuesday.

He says sea ice cover plays a big role in catch success.

“We’ve been limited just by what the sea ice allows us to get —  it’s kind of limited the fishery. We’ve got a really good biomass, a healthy stock out there. And as far as this year, I think it’s been better for that just because we haven’t had a lot of sea ice to deal with.”

This winter saw the second-lowest Arctic sea ice extent on record.

Leon says the Norton Sound herring bait fishery could see the highest total harvest on record since 1997. That would happen if the five fishermen with permits reach the 100-ton quota set by Norton Sound Seafood Products.

The fishery opened this year on May 14th, so if the catch continues at the current rate, the quota could be reached in a few days. But Leon says that will depend on how things play out.

“It can be when you’re on them, you grab a lot. So it definitely has potential for them to get their quota. As far as when that happens, it’s just not super predictable. We’re gillnet fishing, so it’s more if they happen to swim by and be in the area, whereas in other areas, if you’re using a purse seine, you get on a whole big group, and you scoop them all up. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

ADF&G also released its 2018 Norton Sound salmon management plan last week. Runs are expected to be similar to last year. Fishing for salmon will likely open in early June in the eastern Norton Sound sub-districts and in late June for other areas.

Correction: The records indicated in this story apply only to the herring bait fishery. Numbers for overall herring harvest have been greater in the past several years when multiple herring fisheries were open. This has been clarified in the story.

Image at top: The Norton Sound Seafood Products processing plant in Unalakleet, which receives the herring catch from the Unalakleet-area fishery (photo: Emily Russell, KNOM).