The Petersburg harbor was a hive of activity and excitement in mid-June. Commercial fishermen scrambled to get everything done for the opening of the Southeast Dungeness crab season and salmon purse seine and drift gillnet fisheries.
KFSK reporter Nora Saks walked the docks to find out what’s on the minds of some local fishermen.
19 year-old Jordan Lapeyri is busy pushing wheelbarrows piled high with little plastic bait jars up and down the South Harbor dock ramp.
Lapeyri’s been fishing since the tender age of six. He’s done plenty of seining and gillnetting – but crabbing is something new. And he is in high spirits.
“I’m feeling great! It’s gonna be fun. Good experience. I’ve never been crabbing before,” said Lapeyri.
The captain of the Nolan Michael, a family friend, needed a deckhand. And Lapeyri needed a job. It was an easy match.
“I wanted just to go seining but then he said he wanted to go try Dungy crabbing first before, for about 10 days, a couple weeks or so, and see how many crabs show up. If none show up, we’ll just leave. Get ready to go seining, put the seine net on,” Lapeyri said.
That kind of versatility is one strategy commercial fisherman use in the absence of a stock assessment survey for Dungeness crab in Southeast Alaska. They won’t know how long they’ll be able to crab until managers have a chance to track the harvest from the first week.
At that point, state crab biologists will use those numbers as well as a few other variables to predict the total harvest and make decisions about whether to keep the season open the full length, until August 15th, or end it early.
Connor Yeager is one of 189 registered crab permit holders. 86 of them are from Petersburg. He was up on the crane dock, transferring hundreds of crab pots to his boat.
He says the hardest thing about the ‘round the clock schedule of crabbing is staying awake.
“The physical part isn’t so much as the mental part, just trying to stay awake for a couple days at a time and have the same pace.”
He says it’s also getting tougher to keep up with the rising costs of equipment, insurance and just keeping the boat going.
According to the Department of Fish and Game, the total Dungeness harvest for last summer was below their predictions, around 1.9 million pounds. But the prices were high – on average $3.03 per pound.
That’s one of the reasons why after a decade of crabbing, Yeager is still at it.
“If we get the same price for crab that we did last year, and their predictions are what they are, I’ll think people will be doing OK,” said Yeager.
Jason Miller was also on the crane dock, converting his boat, the Aleutian Spirit, over to salmon seine gear for the season opener.
He’s spent the last few winters, and even a few summers, fishing for squid in California. It’s been lucrative. But he’s decided to try for salmon again here, and is hoping they’ll materialize after a few years of weak runs.
“I heard the price is going to be much stronger this year because of the demand and the lack of production the last two seasons. For pinks and chums,” said Miller.
The Department of Fish and Game is forecasting a strong pink salmon harvest in Southeast, just above the ten year average.
But for seiners and crabbers like Jordan Lapeyri, estimates only go so far, and attitude is everything right now.
“Hopefully we get at least ten crab per pot, that’s the goal. It’s a high goal, but you gotta set your goals high,” he said.
The Dungeness crab season opened June 15th, and seiners and gillnetters had their first openings of the summer season June 18th.