Following a commercial Dungeness crab harvest last summer they say depleted subsistence catches here, residents may petition the state Board of Fish to expand areas closed to commercial crabbing in Lynn Canal.
“This isn’t over,” said assemblyman Norm Smith, who arranged a presentation by the state Department of Fish and Game at last week’s Haines Borough Assembly meeting. “Every person I talked to said they didn’t catch any crab after (the commercial harvest started.)”
Smith said he’d take the issue to the December meeting of the Upper Lynn Canal Advisory Board to the boards of Fish and Game.
Forrest Bowers, a marine fisheries supervisor for Fish and Game, reported at the assembly meeting that commercial Dungeness harvest in Chilkoot Inlet increased to 90,000 pounds last summer, about three times the average annual harvest from the previous four years.
In Chilkat Inlet, the commercial harvest increased from 12,000 pounds in 2011 to 19,000 pounds in 2012, Bowers said.
Longtime resident Pat Philpott testified that following commercial crabbing, he fished for 10 days without harvesting a single crab. “That’s pathetic, and that’s mismanagement, in my opinion. Somebody dropped the ball here. That’s part of my food supply.”
Lutak resident Richard Buck said there were about 60 pots in front of his home two weeks ago. “You can put a pot in there, but you can’t catch anything.”
Buck and Smith endorsed a harvest zone exclusive to subsistence users. There are 14 such zones in Southeast Alaska, including one at Mud Bay. In an interview this week, Smith said the zone should be much larger than the one at Mud Bay.
Terry Pardee, a local commercial crabber with a 75-pot license, described the situation as a “perfect storm” involving declining natural stocks, increased prices and fewer crabs in other parts of Southeast.
He saw harvests of a crab every two pots in the fall fishery where historically there were 15 to 25 crabs. “What we’re seeing right now is not sustainable… When they’re done, there’s not going to be enough crab to put on a Ritz cracker,” Pardee said.
Pardee said he wouldn’t demonize commercial users and that regulatory fixes “don’t work the way you intend them.” He said the fall crab fishery should be closed and expressed worry about the recovery of stocks from recent harvest.
Fish and Game’s Bowers said he didn’t doubt that subsistence users had a more difficult time catching crabs last summer but said he didn’t believe there was a resource concern at this time.
Fish and Game can commercial fishing areas and times when there’s a compelling resource concern, he said. “I don’t see anything right now that tells me the long-term reproductive potential of this stock is being jeopardized.”