Each spring, the waters in Sitka Sound churn with the activity of millions of spawning herring. The herring attract other wildlife like whales and birds, and their arrival kickstarts the ancient cultural practice of gathering herring eggs. It’s a remarkable time and something that Larisa Manewal experienced every year while she was growing up in Sitka. “It is sort of an amazing natural phenomenon to witness and be here for,” she says. “It’s just like spring coming alive.”
The herring run is unique in Sitka, but it wasn’t always that way. Herring used to spawn in abundance in other areas of southeast Alaska, including Juneau. But Pacific herring numbers are declining for numerous reasons, and many people blame in part a commercial fishery that targets the roe inside mature females. The importance of commercial fishing for herring versus the cultural relevance of herring has become a contentious issue in the area.
Manewal is a 2021 Rasmuson Individual Artist Awards recipient for this project proposal to dig deeper into the issue through photographing and interviewing different stakeholders in the region. “I am focused on the cultural and community importance of a strong herring return through individual interviews and portraits,” Manewal says. “I also aim to capture the ambient mood of the Sitka spring herring return—the wildlife, ever-changing weather, and the small, shimmery wonder that is the Pacific herring.”
Though she has personal experiences with the spawning season, Manewal says she doesn’t plan to include her own voice in the project. Instead, she wants to be a photographer and storyteller who amplifies others’ voices. She plans to showcase the completed project online and in physical exhibits.
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