SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Dungeness Crab in Southeast Alaska
By Jackie Tyson


May 09, 2009

Briefly, I was at the Petersburg Board of Fish (BoF) meeting. I spoke for the people of Whale Pass who wanted to keep the little bay in front of their town closed to commercial crabbers. My husband was trying to get a small area in the Wrangell Narrows by Petersburg closed to Dungeness because it's so depleted. We were shot down. It was not pretty.

As it stands now, every three years proposals are submitted to the BoF, and unless you are there in large enough numbers and can give ample reasons to keep an area closed, it will be re-opened. It costs a fortune to fly to a BoF meeting and the lodging and per diem for 5 days is a real financial drain. Then you only get 5 minutes to state your case. It's tough.

With a summer season in Districts 1 and 2 (Revilla Island/east Prince of Wales waters) the closed waters of Bostwick Inlet and Clover Pass will most likely be submitted for re-opening three years from now. Imagine trying to troll for coho and king salmon when Clover Pass is plugged with commercial Dungeness pots. That's what the people of Whale Pass have to put up with each summer!

The law says personal use and sport fishers have 12 months of the year in which they can take legal size Dungeness crab. In actuality the commercial Dungeness crab fleet is extremely large and efficient at taking the majority of the legal size population within 4 weeks of the fishery opening; i.e., June 15 to July 15, and personal use and sport fishers find it very difficult to find a decent catch of legal male crabs the other 11 months of the year.

All of you folks who are personal use or sport crabbers, please take written note of what and where you've historically taken crabs and also what you catch once the commercial fleet has taken most of the legal males in that first month of the opening. There are people like Lloyd, Larry, and myself who want to gather this information for the next BoF meeting.

Management of this resource is a complex problem. In the late spring/early summer many of the male crabs have just molted, they're starving, they're softshell. Studies have been done in Washington and Kodiak on handling of softshell crab. Three or four times crawling into a commercial pot where they are crushed by hardshell crab scrambling around, and then being thrown back in the water once the pots are pulled, signs their death sentence. Tom Shirley with the University of Alaska actually did a study mimicking what happens to hardshell crab (think of the undersize males and females) when they're thrown back in the water from the deck of a commercial vessel. The report is online. It's tough for soft and hardshell crabs to survive this treatment. Little research has been done. More needs to be done. Fish and Game has limited funding, and staff in the Shellfish department is minimal. Funding needs to be pursued.

By the time the winter fishery starts on October 1, the crabs have recovered. They're full of meat and are hardshell. Washington and Oregon fisheries don't open until late December/early January. Winter is the optimal time to take Dungeness, just as winter is the optimal time to take tanner and king crab.

Softshell is why Larry Painter, retired commercial Dungeness fisherman, worked so hard to get Districts 1 and 2 closed in the summer. This is why when it was briefly reopened, the people who fished caught mostly softshell and went broke, and the fishery was closed. In those days the Board met every year. Three years of fishing before the next BoF meeting will have serious effects on the Dungeness crab populations in Districts 1 and 2.

Please let your state government know they need to manage this sustainable fishery with all user groups in mind.


Jackie Tyson
Petersburg, AK

Received May 07, 2008 - Published May 09, 2009



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