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Southeast should discontinue Dungeness crab harvesting

Posted: October 10, 2013 - 12:07am

I recently testified at the Lynn Canal Fish & Game Advisory Board meeting regarding the current Dungeness crab management plan for Southeast Alaska waters. The best way to understand what is at risk here is to quote ADF&G management reports after the collapse of the Dungeness crab fishery in Prince William Sound.

Orca Inlet: “Harvest ranged from over 1 million pounds in the early 1960s to 35,000 pounds in 1976. The fishery has been closed since 1980.

ADF&G conducted surveys in Orca Inlet beginning in 1974. The survey reported: “Legal male catch per pot has declined from 16 in 1986 to 0.25 in 1998. The 2002 survey caught no Dungeness crab in 30 pot lifts. The last survey was conducted in 2008 and produced no Dungeness crab in 15 pot lifts.”

Copper River: “The Harvest peaked at 1.5 million pounds in 1980 declining to 70,000 pounds in 1991. The Copper River District fishery has been closed since 1992.

This story of destruction can be told for Cook Inlet (still closed), Yakutat (still closed, sport catch also) and I believe it foretells the immediate future for Haines and Southeast.

I am advocating that as a community we request that the Board of Fish immediately close the waters of Southeast Alaska to commercial harvest of Dungeness crab. For those of you concerned about the financial impact of a closure on our local crabbers, consider that there won’t be anything to catch for at least the next 30 years unless we act now.

The disaster that is unfolding with our Dungeness stocks is the same story that has happened in other places in Southeast Alaska. Some believe that there is such resilience in the wild populations that even our most damaging destruction will be repaired by Mother Nature. It doesn’t work that way.

These following excerpts are from Ronald Leighton’s 2010 correspondence when he was Chairman of the Cultural Committee of the Village of Kasaan.

“The 2009 summer Dungeness crab fishery......left the Kasaan resident catching only about 3 percent of their traditional catch levels,” he said. “Studies conducted in Kodiak indicate there is a 40 to 50 percent mortality rate on caught and released soft shelled crab. Studies show that a Dungeness crab handled four times does not survive.”

The Department of Fish & Game wrote a press release dated Aug. 7, 2013, regarding keeping the Fall 2013 season open.

“The Department has determined that an unusually high proportion of legal sized soft-shelled Dungeness crab were discarded”

The quote refers to the failure to make quota in the summer fishery.

Amazingly, the department recommended keeping the Fall fishery open.

So we can all understand why 300 pot boats are camping out for months in the waters of Haines and what that means for our crab. The biologist responsible for this fishery is clueless. It’s our duty to respond to his arrogance.

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