Right now it is snowing, but it’s too warm for it to stick. Before that it was rain, hard rain and before that drizzle. It’s overcast with occasional bursts of sun through the clouds. It is 40 degrees but feels like 30. We call it “herring weather.” “Herring weather” will give way to warmer and sunnier spring. The promise is already in the crocus popping up, the buds on the bushes and the first leave of tulips and daffodils breaking through the soil. And despite the current discomfort, with the promise of spring, it is one of the best times to be in Sitka.
Herring weather is named after the hundreds of thousands of herring who come into Sitka Sound to spawn late every March, and early every April. Humpback whales, hungry after their epic swim from Hawaii chase these tons of biomass, as do seals, sealions and all sorts of birds. Fishermen gear up to take the herring in their sein nets simply for their roe in a controversial fishery. Traditional subsistence fishermen spread hemlock boughs along the shore hoping the herring will lay their eggs on those boughs. It is a fishery that allows the herring to live while harvesting the eggs leaving enough on the shore from which future generations of fish will grow. After the spawn the gray whales will cruise along the shore and suck up eggs on a pit stop in their annual northerly migration. Some years pods of transient orca will cruise through the sound picking off sealions and seals who come for the herring. The bears are beginning to stir from their sleep and some have already made their appearance along Starrigavan creek. Over the years in Sitka we have seen all of this.
I hadn’t planned to be in Sitka for this year’s herring weather. I had hoped to be cruising off the coast of West Africa. But my health dictated that I be home recuperating. Herring season is a renewal, death and resurrection, if you will. Even though I hadn’t planned it, it is good to be home.
The pictures on this post are from my window, watching the fleet standing by for the signal to start fishing, crocuses in my front yard, and from the deck Allen Marine’s “St. Nicholas” on a Sitka Sound Science Center