February 28, 2013 | Volume 43, No. 8

Reciprocal fish licenses under fire

The Upper Lynn Canal Fish and Game Advisory Committee will recommend the state discontinue its reciprocal fishing license program with Canada, but postponed discussion of how to deal with the reported overharvesting of Dungeness crab in Lynn Canal.

During the Feb. 22 meeting, committee member Julia Heinz moved to write letters to the Board of Fish and Game and Alaska Legislature requesting the state terminate its reciprocal fishing license agreement with the Yukon Territory, which allows Canadians and Alaskans to buy fishing licenses in one another’s countries for the same prices as locals.

The motion passed unanimously.

“Really we’re opening up the valley to the potential 30,000 residents from the Yukon to come down, and I’m not sure the valley can fully support that,” Heinz said.

Heinz acknowledged Yukoners could still come here if the agreement is terminated, but said the considerably higher fee would deter some users.

Though Yukoners are subject to non-resident bag limits, loopholes regarding possession and bag limits have allowed some users to exploit the system and take more fish, crab and shrimp than the licensing agreement originally intended, Haines District Park Ranger Preston Kroes said.

“It is kind of a loophole in the regulations. And I’m not trying to paint all Yukon fishermen in a bad light...it’s just a portion of them. But there definitely are some that come down with a freezer and a generator in the back of their pick-up and utilize that loophole,” Kroes said.  

Fish and Game biologist Rich Chapell said the area is not currently experiencing a resource problem.

“People feel that non-residents are exporting too much of our resources, but Fish and Game’s point of view is we have a sustainable harvest on the Chilkat River. We’re meeting our escapement goals. Biologically, it’s not a problem. Possession is more of a social issue at this point,” Chapell said.

The committee postponed addressing the concerns of residents who claim commercial crabbers are overharvesting to the detriment of subsistence users.

Forrest Bowers, a marine fisheries supervisor for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, attended the meeting and answered questions about how the state monitors the area’s Dungeness numbers and what the advisory committee could do if it decided to pursue some kind of measure to protect subsistence users.

Bowers said the committee could ask for a number of regulatory changes, including requesting more restrictive districts, vessel size limits and/or pot limits. The committee would need to submit a proposal to Fish and Game by April 2014 to have the board consider the request during its next shellfish meeting in January 2015.  

Subsistence user Diane LaCourse testified she has been fishing for crab from a canoe in front of her Carr’s Cove home for ages, and only in the past three to four years has she seen a sharp decline in her access to crab. LaCourse attributed the decline to commercial crabbers placing their pots near hers.

“It’s just slim pickings right now for subsistence. So what I’m advocating for is some kind of linear distance that says if you’re within a mile of an area that’s residential, there’s no commercial crabbing in that area so it allows for subsistence use. Because most subsistence users aren’t going to go drop their pot out in the middle of 600-foot water,” LaCourse said.

Commercial crabber Kristopher Morden said subsistence users like LaCourse are living in “fantasy land,” and that crab harvests are down all along the Pacific coast.

“We’re harvesting, we’re not decimating... It’s bad from San Francisco to Dutch Harbor. It’s the Pacific. It’s a cycle. You don’t want to take your pots out of the water, you want to take mine out of the water,” Morden said.

When asked by committee member Dean Risley whether there is a conservation concern at this time, Bowers responded with a flat no, and said “stock looks pretty healthy.”

The committee will discuss how to move forward on the Dungeness issue during its next meeting, which has not yet been set.