June 13, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 23

Assembly softens crab letter terms

The Haines Borough Assembly voted unanimously Tuesday to remove mention of an emergency closure to the local Dungeness crab fishery from a letter to the Department of Fish and Game.

In the original letter, Mayor Stephanie Scott expressed concern that human and sea otter pressure on the fishery will ultimately decimate the crab biomass and prevent sustainable commercial, subsistence and personal use harvest.

“We would like to prevent such a decline. One suggestion is to consider an emergency closure of district 15A. We feel that such a step might be properly characterized as ‘short term pain for long term gain,’” Scott wrote.

However, the assembly voted to remove the language after several assembly members said they had been approached by residents who balked at the emergency closure suggestion.

Assembly member Jerry Lapp said he was approached by several people on the issue, and requested the emergency closure suggestion be removed “so that some of our local fishermen do not feel like we want to close this off to them.”

Two commercial crabbers with 75-pot permits also talked to assembly member Debra Schnabel and said they would not support sending the original draft of the letter, Schnabel said.

Assembly member Norm Smith said the goal of sending the letter is not to shut down local commercial crabbers.

“The object of this whole thing is not to ban the commercial fishing of our local guys. But we can’t afford to have 300-pot permit holders coming in here from down south and mine-fielding our whole peninsula,” Smith said.

Though the assembly voted to remove the emergency closure suggestion, it added language and information regarding recent commercial hauls and local subsistence user experiences.

Smith said it was important to include the fact that 90,000 pounds of Dungeness crab were harvested in Chilkoot Inlet last summer, about three times the average annual harvest from the previous four years.

“We’re being impacted now. Ninety thousand pounds were caught. Show us how that is sustainable,” Smith said.

Subsistence crabber Rob Goldberg testified and said last spring, he was catching one or two crabs a day with his single pot near Paradise Cove. This year, he caught two legal crabs in two months.

The letter also will now point out that the Board of Fisheries is not scheduled to take up shellfish issues until 2015, but that the board can take up issues out-of-cycle if the matter is pressing.

A reference to the village of Kasaan, which was successful in 2010 in obtaining an out-of-cycle agenda change due to overharvesting of its Dungeness crab fishery, will also be included in the letter.

Mayor Scott will make the changes and send the letter to Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campell, marine fisheries supervisor Forrest Bowers, and Upper Lynn Canal Fish and Game Advisory Committee chair Tim McDonough.