Sunday, December 11, 2005

Herring gillnetting

This article about herring gillnetting in San Francisco Bay brought back memories of running around in the Bay with my brother Steve and Johnny Johansen. I only did that once and for just a short time. I think I only helped them shake nets for a couple of hours. I calculated I got paid about 1000 dollars an hour. They made out like bandits for the season. But lately it's been really scratchy, and the prices have been way down too.

This picture I took, of my brother Steve and his herring gillnet crewman, Craig Norheim, documents the entire catch of the first year of roe herring gillneting in Alaska: a couple of buckets of steamer clams.

It may be that the prices of herring roe never come back to their former glory. I reported to the Alaska Commercial Fishing and Agriculture Bank, when I worked there in the 80's, that young Japanese were going more for flavored Atlantic herring roe, and too, were not even picking up the habit. Kind of like young people of Norwegian decent in this country not eating so much pickled herring.

But the gillnetters in San Francisco Bay intrigue me. They somehow prevailed over the fisheries biologists in regards to what mesh size to use. Interesting story. My father always thought that gillnetting for herring was the better way to catch herring because you could target the larger herring. The little ones could grow up and the larger ones you caught were more valuable on the market anyway.

Between my two brothers, my father and myself, we launched the first gillnet herring operation in Alaska. The company across the harbor saw our activity and the next year herring gillnetters from all over Southeast Alaska joined us down at Kahshakes Cove. The Petersburg guys in their newly minted aluminum sleds and the Ketchikan bunch in their treated plywood barges we called the "Cuprinol Coffins," after the green preservative paint, Cuprinol.

What stories I could tell from 12 years of ram-rodding in the hering fisheries. Maybe I can eventually get some of them down for the record, for that book that someone is going to write on the fishing industry in Alaska, covering the last fourty years of the 1900s anyway.

With as much herring as there is in Alaska, it's pretty hard to come by some good food herring to mess around with. Me and Iver Amundsen went together and bought a frozen block of good herring from Seahawk Seafoods in Valdez one time when we worked for CFAB. The herring was slated to be halibut bait, but Ray Cessarini had told me it was frozen just a couple of hours after it was caught. That set us up in pickled herring real well for that Christmas in Anchorage.

I just happened to come on the scene as a production foreman when the stars were aligned for the start of the roe herring fisheries in Alaska. I was helping run the crew in Yakutat when we froze the first load of roe herring that ever got frozen in Alaska. After that it all got squeezed out and packed in buckets, until the fad changed to freezing in blocks again, with the passage of the "Total Utilization Law."

So, here's to a better season for the San Francisco Bay herring fishermen. May the big herring stick in their nets and the small ones get through, the price bump up a little, the price of fuel go down a little, the weather stay good, and the exchange rate stay favorable.


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