Proposals to close commercial Dungeness crabbing in many areas of Southeast Alaska got no support from the Fish and Game Advisory Committee in the commercial fishing town of Petersburg. As Angela Denning reports, one resident hopes to make one area near Petersburg off limits to the commercial fleet.

Petersburg’s Fish and Game Advisory Committee has opposed all proposals that would close areas in Southeast Alaska to commercial fishing for Dungeness crab. There are a dozen such proposals for the Board of Fish to consider at their meeting January 21-27 in Wrangell.

Two proposals that got the most discussion at a recent advisory meeting in Petersburg came from local resident and commercial fishermen, Steve Burrell. His proposals would close the commercial Dungeness crab fishery in portions of the Wrangell Narrows.

At the meeting, Burrell said the proposals would provide a small area for locals to fish without pressure from the commercial fleet. He told the committee that it’s a conservation measure to protect the resource for coming generations.

“At least your kids and your grand kids might have a place to go catch crab out here,” Burrell said, “because if goes like all you guys say it’s going to go, the sea otters are taking the crab, the commercial fishermen are going to catch every crab out there until they catch the last male crab.”

Committee members talked about it for a while and thanked Burrell for participating in the process but made it clear they would not support the proposals.

Max Worhatch is one of the advisory committee members.

“There is no conservation issue for Dungeness Crab,” Worhatch said. “You’ve got January through June 15th you can harvest all you want. And from August 25 and all the way through that time frame of course, even though I know it’s hard even though I know it’s hard to catch around commercial pots. I watch people do it all the time, and it’s like, it ain’t gonna work. So basically it’s like you’re looking at a two month closure and then you got another six weeks and then you got to deal with October but then you’ve got the rest of the time to harvest. You’ve got eight months when we can’t fish there at all.”

Board member, Andy Knight, agreed that non-commercial fishermen had plenty of opportunity.

“Gosh, you know, there’s 245 days a year where there is no competition in that area,” Knight said.

Committee member, Frank Neidiffer, said he did not support the closures because he feared it would lead to closures in other areas.

“Well, that’s my opposition too, is because it sets precedence and then everybody wants one,” Neidiffer said.

Committee member, Joel Randrup, said he didn’t like the proposals because it pits Burrell against them, which he says is not where the fight should be.

“It’s us against the federal government with the sea otter and we could harvest sea otters, and we never will, but if we could, there would be no problem,” Randrup said.

Fishermen argue that the sea otter, which is a protected species, is eating up too much crab in the area. Alaska Natives are the only ones allowed to hunt them.

Burrell said he submitted two proposals so the committee might choose to support one or the other. He told committee members they are like talking to a wall because they vote “No” on every proposal regarding closures.

“It’s something to think about instead of always just voting no because it’s just not about all of us,” Burrell said. “I’m a commercial fishermen myself. So, think about beyond what, you know, our pocket book for today. So, I don’t know, I think you should consider this proposal.”

The committee ended up opposing both proposals but there was some support for other ways to get more crab for local fishermen. While committee members said they would not support closures, they could support loosening size restrictions.

Although Burrell pushed them to modify his proposal to reflect that they took no such action.

The only proposal regarding a Dungeness crab closure the committee did support was one that would repeal a closure for commercial fishing near Tenakee Inlet, Sitka Sound and Port Althrop.

The proposals and the recommendations from the Petersburg committee will go forward to be considered by the State Board of Fish at their meeting January 21-27 in Wrangell.