A summertime commercial Dungeness crab fishery in southern Southeast is ending. The state’s Board of Fish this month voted against a continuation of summertime commercial crabbing in districts 1 and 2 around Ketchikan and southern Prince of Wales Island.
The Board in 2009 voted to re-open those districts to the commercial fleet in a two-month summer season. Fishermen wanted more area for a fleet impacted by sea otters and more chance to market crab during a time of year when other west coast fisheries are closed. The board closed the summer season in District 2 in 2010, based on concerns from Kasaan that the commercial catch was cutting into local subsistence needs.
Ronald Leighton, vice president of the Organized Village of Kasaan, opposed the latest proposal to continue the summer fishery. He said the commercial catch was making it more difficult for residents of the area. “Since it opened in 2009, the residents of Kasaan have had a difficult time getting their customary and traditional use,” Leighton said. “I personally, even as far as this last summer could not get any more than 20 percent of what I used to get. I normally have some crab vacuum packed to my freezer, normally in the past years. I haven’t had since it opened.”
When the board first opened the controversial summer fishery in 2009, it included a sunset clause, ending the fishery without further board action. A proposal by Ketchikan resident Clay Bezenek sought to remove that sunset clause and keep both districts 1 and 2 open in the summer. The proposal included a potential closed area near Kasaan.
Petersburg crabber Joe Willis testified against further commercial closures. “We really just can’t afford anymore closed areas,” he said. “I fished Ketchikan this fall and some of the areas that are asked to be set aside, my pots came up with crab. It didn’t seem like it was totally depleted.”
Alaska Department of Fish and game opposed the proposal, citing concerns with soft shell crab caught by the commercial fleet during the summer months. The department doesn’t have a conservation concern with crab stocks in the two districts, but is concerned with mortality of summertime molting crab caught by the fleet. “The department’s position has been we support a fall-winter fishing scenario, so, to that extent eliminating the summer season would avoid soft-shell handling, it could improve stock status,” the department’s Forrest Bowers explained.
Board members who supported the opening in 2009, said they no longer could, including Vince Webster of King Salmon. “The reason I voted for it three years ago, I haven’t seen it come into existence,” Webster said. “And we may have misplaced some fishermen who built their operation on that wintertime fishery. So I’m not going to be supporting it Mr. Chair.”
Meanwhile, Board member Tom Kluberton of Talkeetna offered two alternatives – one was a smaller commercial closed area, the other was a summer fishery in district one and not district two. Both those amendments failed and the proposal also failed. The board voted unanimously against it with John Jensen sitting out the vote.
The decision reverts districts 1 and 2 back to a fall winter season.