About the Fishery
I call Togiak the fishery that time forgot. In the 1980’s, the West Coast and Alaskan herring fisheries were the hottest things going. Fortunes were made as fishermen hauled in load after load of herring, which the Japanese coveted for the roe (kazunoko). In its heyday, over three hundred seiners and well over four hundred gillnetters would converge in Togiak each spring as the sea ice receded, the onshore waters warmed up (to 4’C) and the herring arrived to spawn. When I was a Togiak deckhand in 1983, fishermen earned $1,400 per ton; last year, fishermen earned less than $100 per ton. Vast schools of herring continue to swarm to the Togiak shoreline each spring, but the hot kazunoko market evaporated long ago when the Japanese economy collapsed, eating habits changed, etc. Today, the number of seiners, gillnetters and processors has dwindled to a skeleton fleet.
The Togiak herring is at historic highs in abundance. By regulation, 20% of the estimated stock is allocated for a commercial harvest. The remaining 80% is kept to sustain the herring population plus feed the rest of the predators (whales, sea lions, etc.). The commercial harvest quota in recent years has been UNDER harvested because demand has withered over the years to the point that the fishery is marginally profitable. In 2020, only TWO seiners and ONE gillnetter fished Togiak herring.
This fishery is dying, but NOT because of overfishing or lack of herring. It’s all because there is little demand; few people, certainly no Americans, eat Alaskan herring. However, now that more people are concerned with eating on the lower end of the food chain, eating small, oily fish that are rich in Omega-3 oils, eating fish that are sustainably harvested, the time for enjoying Togiak herring has come.