Red king crab (Photo courtesy of ADF&G)

People catching king crab for personal use throughout Southeast Alaska will be required to obtain a permit and report their catch, a requirement already in place around Juneau. Alaska’s Board of Fisheries in January made that change and voted to lower the daily bag limit for the valuable crab around most of the region.

The board generated proposal had two parts, one was to require a permit for personal use king crab fishing throughout Southeast. Such a permit, already in place near Juneau, requires catch reporting and was a change supported by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“More accurate estimates of harvests by user groups would improve red king crab stock assessment in surveyed areas because a key component of population modeling requires knowledge of all known mortality,” said Adam Messmer, the department’s shellfish assistant manager for Southeast. “The information collected would also show the relative importance of specific areas to personal use harvest which are currently unknown.”

The other part of the proposal was to reduce the daily bag limit for most of the region from six crab to three crab a person. Outside of parts of Lynn Canal and the waters around Juneau, six is the maximum bag limit allowed when crab are abundant enough to allow a commercial fishery like last year. But in years of low abundance, the bag limit can be adjusted down.

Kathy Hansen, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance, a commercial fishing industry group, voiced support for both changes. “It’s a very important component for us to figure out what is going on with the resource,” Hansen said. “Equally added on to the proposal is the reducing the bag limit to three king crab. This is a really reasonable amount. If you put a bag limit of six crab on it, people try to take all six and then they get home. They’re not sure what they do with it and the give it to all their friends ‘cause we got extra. And then they go out and do it again the following week or couple weeks.”

Another commercial fishing group, the Petersburg Vessel Owner’s Association was opposed to the change because it was board generated with less time for public comment. PVOA executive director Megan O’Neil did not think the catch was very large outside of the Juneau area. “The process in place right now works good to quantify the removals there but I think you’ll find that there’s not very much removals outside of that area for the personal use fishery,” O’Neil said.

Fish and Game has limited information about the catch in region beyond Juneau. Some of the catch is reported by people responding to a mail-out survey. That reporting shows an average annual catch of 1,237 crab in the region, although that’s considered only a minimum estimate. Assuming those crab average around seven pounds each as they do in the commercial fishery, that’s an annual catch of more than 8,600 pounds. The most recent commercial harvest was around 120,000 pounds.

Several board members opposed the change coming from the board and not a member of the public.

“This board generated proposal would lower the limit from six to three, the bag and possession limit and I have issue with that. It could’ve and should’ve come in as a proposal from the public,” said Reed Morisky of Fairbanks.

It was one of two board generated shellfish proposals considered at the Southeast meeting.

“I think a 50 percent arbitrary allocation cut is excessive and not appropriate at this time based on the information we have before us, of the relatively small take by personal use fishermen,” said board member Israel Payton of Wasilla.

Others thought the bag limit should be cut. Board member John Jensen owns a boat rental business in Petersburg and reported on what he sees on the docks.

“I’m watching people come in daily in Petersburg with their bag limit,” Jensen said. “Two or three guys will go out in a boat and they’ll all get their bag limit and they’re bringing these buckets of crab in, everyday. I think this would help alleviate that.”

Anchorage board member Alan Cain agreed the bag limit was being abused. Cain worked for state in wildlife law enforcement around Southeast.

“I’ve looked at many bays and inlets, been in them and observed people fishing throughout Southeast Alaska over my career and a three king crab per person per day bag limit usually allows multiple bag limits to come aboard the vessel which is more than enough king crab for a family or group to enjoy and I have always worried about the six crab limit and like chairman Jensen have seen it abused,” Cain said.

Payton moved to amend the proposal to remove the bag limit reduction. That failed on a 3-4 vote with only Robert Ruffner of Soldotna, Payton and Morisky voting for the change. The unchanged motion passed unanimously as board members voiced support for the reporting requirement. But it also includes the maximum bag limit reduction from six down to three crab.