Sunday, April 20, 2008

News from Sitka, April 20, 2008

Regarding a question about herring egg harvesting

Maybe with a part of a Kiks.adi story about Aak'wtaatseen (a man who became an Ixht' and lived to be older than 100 years). This happened long ago.

As a young boy Aak'wtaatseen became a salmon and traveled for several years with them until they returned to the stream where they were born. The legend goes something like this:
When the salmon he was with returned to Sitka Sound they came upon a large school of herring.
The two canoes exchanged insulting words with each other. The herring won the altercation when they said "we fed the people before you, we are the first to feed the people."
This refers to the fact that herring are the first to offer themselves to the people in the spring. The Lingit not only eat herring and their eggs all the time, they have always eaten herring and herring eggs. It is part of the annual life cycle for many thousands of years.

Today herring eggs are harvested and processed with ancient techniques and with modern tools. Hemlock branches are cut from the forest and placed in the ocean with an anchor to form a "nest" so that the schools of fish will be attracted and lay their sticky eggs on the needles and branches. The salt water soaks into the eggs, plumps them up and stops the stickiness so when we pull up the branches, after 2-3 days, we hopefully have 1" thick steaks of solid eggs. We also look for natural growths of hair kelp and macrosistis kelp to harvest when they have been coated with thick layers of eggs.

Long ago herring eggs were dried and traded with the interior Natives, along with sea mammal and fish oils which were very hard to come by in those areas. Those trade routes were called grease trails. Today people do still trade herring eggs with each other, but it is more of a delicacy now that Sitka is the last place on the west coast where they have an annual spawn.
Long ago herring eggs were eaten with hooligan and seal oil and today many also use butter and soy to dip the eggy chunks in. It looks like white caviar.

This year has been terrible for the traditional harvesters. We don't have much to share. Roby Littlefield, Sitka

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Herring in Lynn Canal Not Endangered Says NOAA's Fisheries Service

Ketchikan, Alaska
April 15, 2008

"Herring in Lynn Canal, near Juneau, Alaska, should not be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act since they are similar to other herring populations in the area which are being considered for listing, according to NOAA's Fisheries Service..."

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Monday, April 14, 2008

News from Sitka, April 14, 2008

We didn't get much herring eggs on branches this year. More than half of the branches we set were missing before the spawn was over. There seemed to be a lot of out of town boats that came here after the spawn started and left with a full deck, even before Sitka people could bring their eggs in. Our own chest freezer is 1/4 full with herring eggs. We usually have a full freezer by now, which would have lasted us through the year.
Sharing herring eggs is not a business for us. It is a way for us to thank others for helping us and a way to trade for other traditional foods from other areas. Shipping costs start at about $60 for a #50 box. Only once in a while do people have enough money to try to help us out with the freight, but there is even more cost involved in the harvest. We take off time from regular work for a week and the boat gas costs hundreds of dollars and we have to buy special equipment like rakes, clippers, rope, chainsaws, plastic totes and grappling hooks. We clean, cut and pack the eggs in ziplock bags to freeze so we can share with Elders and at community events through the year. I do believe that young people who can still physically do the work should help with the harvest or pay a share of the expense for gathering the eggs. You wouldn't expect an artist, weaver or carpenter to work for you for free. It is called respect. I was just hoping that the eggs that we gave away to Elders to say thank you are not being sold for personal profit because we paid a lot to gather and send them out to friends and family and WE certainly didn't make any money.
Maybe this is moot. We may not be able to share or trade for a while, anyway. The herring stocks are being mismanaged and everyone will probably be limited in harvesting for the next few years because of this years outragious overharvest by commercial boats. Thanks for listening. I don't mean to offend anyone but I don't know any other way to let people know about our problems. Roby Littlefield, Sitka

News from Sitka, April 10, 2008

No new spawn has been identified in the Sitka Sound today.

This is the first time in local memory that there has been no herring spawn along any of Halibut Point Road.

We are losing our herring the same way as Ketchikan and Juneau. How/Why is this happening to us? Roby Littlefield, Sitka

Friday, April 4, 2008

News from Sitka, April 4, 2008

Yesterday I found out that this particular boat was not the biggest set. The bigger one was this much and half again more. That largest set had 3.7 million pounds of herring in its net and it took almost 4 full days to process. Roby Littlefield, Sitka