Commercial Fisheries

From Washington to Alaska, commercial herring fisheries started in the late 1870’s, primarily as bait fisheries, but effort quickly shifting to reduction fisheries. Reduction fisheries involve catching whole herring and reducing them into oil and fertilizer. Purse seine fishing and the smaller scale gill net fishing [photo + link Explorer video] became the main method to catch herring in huge quantities to supply the many reduction plants on the coast. The reduction fisheries ended in British Columbia and Alaska in the 1960s due to stock collapse, and by the 1980s, Washington closed their reduction fisheries due to concerns about the health of the herring stocks.


After stocks reportedly rebounded up and down the coast, and new markets were identified, herring were harvested in earnest for the sac roe fishery (SRF). The SRF targets unfertilized, “pre-spawn” egg sacs that are removed from the female and shipped to Asia where they are a highly prized delicacy (called kazunoko). The carcasses of the females and males that are caught in the nets are processed into fishmeal. The SRF remains a major component of the industrial herring fishery today.

By the mid-sixties, commercial spawn-on-kelp (SOK) fisheries were initiated in Alaska, by the mid-seventies they were initiated in British Columbia, and Washington opened their SOK fisheries nearly a decade later. Building on Indigenous innovation, the SOK commercial fisheries use either open or closed ponds in which kelp is set along lines that are submerged underwater near spawning sites. Nearly all commercial spawn-on-kelp from Washington, Alaska, and British Columbia is exported to Japan.

Herring is still fished along the coast for food and bait.  These fish are harvested mainly with seine nets between November and January when the fat concentration of the fish is greatest.


Friday, January 24, 2014