Culture and Herring Eggs

Even though I am a brand new member of the the community, I heard the buzz and the word on the street : the herring eggs would be arriving from Sitka soon on the Shirley N. Hoonah is strongly tied to the forage of the ocean; many are dependent on the resources it provides for subsistence and cultural identity. After a long winter, the herring egg harvest is a sign of spring and welcome source of protein.  The Shirly N. arrived at 5 PM and the sun started to break through the clouds. From her hold containing thousands of pounds of fresh eggs came the first loads of branches laden with herring eggs. They were loaded into the back of waiting four-wheelers and brought to the elders in the community. The smiles on everyone’s face was infectious and the importance of the event was obvious! I was excited to take part the traditional herring egg harvest and learn about the significance of the resource to the people of Hoonah.

When herring spawn, their eggs attach firmly to strands of kelp and other structure in the water. Traditional harvesters use this to their advantage and strategically lay bows of hemlock in the water to collect the eggs so that they will stick to the branches. Timing is everything, and often the peak of the spawn may be detected by the color of the water which is turned white from the spawn of countless herring.  Once collected the  eggs may be used in salads, boiled, pickled, frozen, dried for future uses, or many other purposes. I personally enjoyed them parboiled with a side of rice and a slab of fresh king salmon. I found their texture to be excellent – like small kernels of corn popping in your mouth. They tasted salty and fresh, and now I know they are a sign of spring.

Herring Eggs are brought from the hold.

Herring Eggs are brought from the hold.

My small take of herring eggs in front of the Shirley N.
My small take of herring eggs in front of the Shirley N.
A large batch of herring eggs coming over board.
A large batch of herring eggs coming over board.
A hemlock branch laden with herring eggs!
A hemlock branch laden with herring eggs!
This hemlock branch has an amazing amount of eggs.
This hemlock branch has an amazing amount of eggs.
The atmosphere of the arrival of herring eggs is evident in the smiles.
The atmosphere of the arrival of herring eggs is evident in the smiles.
Passing a large branch of eggs.
Passing a large branch of eggs.
Holding up a large branch of herring eggs to see who needs them next. a
Holding up a large branch of herring eggs to see who needs them next. a
Happiness on the dock!
Happiness on the dock!
Herring Eggs on hemlock
Herring Eggs on hemlock
Herring Eggs on hemlock
Herring Eggs on hemlock

First Impressions of Hoonah, Alaska

Incredibly I have been in Hoonah, Alaska for an entire week already. There is so much to see, learn, and do in Southeast Alaska that I cannot wait to dive into life here more fully, but I hope to give you a small taste of what I have experienced up this point and foreshadow future opportunities.

Seeing as the community is along the rich waters of Port Frederick and the Pacific Ocean there is strong interest in the cycles of fish. The chatter throughout town is that the herring will be here any day and will fuel an entire diverse ecosystem. Once they arrive the whales, salmon, halibut, eagles, bears, and much more will all follow in short order. Four types of salmon may be commonly caught by simply casting a spoon from shore, and if you have a boat, the opportunity of a 300 pound halibut is just a stones throw away. I was told that whales bubble feed underneath the docks on the Hoonah Harbor. The waters here are so clear that if they are near the docks you can likely watch their underwater feeding before they break the surface.  Once the salmon are in the rivers, the highest concentration of brown bears in the world will flock to the rivers to fatten up on salmon for the winter.  All of these wildlife will present photographic opportunities that I cannot wait to shoot!

Clouds and rain are a staple of Southeast Alaska and fuel the temperate rain forests containing mammoth spruces, hemlocks and cedars growing to over 200 feet in height. Some regions of Southeast receive over 200 inches of rain each year and never seem to have cloudless nights. To my delight I was presented with a relative rarity in Southeast Alaska : clear skies. There are very few large towns in Southeast and light pollution is minimal. The conditions are perfect for night photography. I ambled my truck filled with camera gear high above the ocean to Gobbler’s Knob. From there the Milky Way stretched out in front of me and the aurora emanated from the far northern horizon. I listened to the sound of Long-tailed Ducks from the ocean below, the rumbled of diesel boats, and my own heartbeat. Certainly a memorable night more easily expressed through photos! The photographs below are a slice from Hoonah which I look forward to embellishing on and bringing your more of!