Fish board closes three areas to commercial crabbers

Commercial fleet will still have access to Echo Cove grounds

Posted: Tuesday, January 25, 2000

Three more areas along the Juneau road system have been closed to commercial Dungeness crab fishing, but Echo Cove will remain open for all users, the state Board of Fisheries decided Monday.

Lena Cove, Bridget Cove and Tee Harbor were closed by the board. Chairman Dan Coffey of Anchorage described the action as an attempt to balance competing interests while giving the public an edge in crabbing areas that can be reached by road.

``The people of Juneau need to be able to harvest for their personal use and consumption,'' Coffey said in an interview at Centennial Hall, where the board was expected to conclude more than a week of deliberations today.

The commercial Dungeness harvest in the newly closed areas is ``relatively small,'' he said.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, while neutral on the issue, estimated about 10 commercial fishermen could incur additional expense in traveling farther from their normal grounds.

There hasn't been state money for an exhaustive stock assessment, but ``localized, temporal depletion'' of Dungeness crab has been reported at Bridget and Lena Coves and Tee Harbor, once commercial fishermen drop their pots, Coffey said.

Unlike the king crab fishery, there isn't a Dungeness quota or allocation by user group.

Some Juneau residents also wanted Echo Cove closed, a proposal rejected by the board. Dungeness crabbing is now allowed there from June 15 to Aug. 15 and from Oct. 1 to Nov. 30.

``(A)t least three commercial vessels fishing over 200 pots in the cove operated there in the summer of 1998 and 1999,'' Carl L. Rosier, who participated in a panel discussion, wrote to board members Friday.

``That is impossible competition for the personal use/subsistence fisherman,'' Rosier said. ``No one attempting to use Echo Cove was aware of any effort by commercial fishermen to alleviate the competition between users.''

But commercial fisherman Allen ``Albie'' Morin of Auke Bay said history shows lost fishing grounds aren't recovered even after stocks rebound from a low point in their cycle.

Juneau commercial crabbers Ted and Emma Deats, also in written testimony, said the harvest level has been moving back up, even though Dungeness crabbing was recently closed in wilderness areas of Glacier Bay National Park.

And sportsman James Newman wrote to the board that there are enough closed areas without shutting commercial fishermen out of Echo Cove. Already in force are commercial closures from Auke Bay south through Gastineau Channel, and from the Shrine of St. Therese north almost to Sentinel Island.

``I get live crab from the commercial boats at a reasonable rate, and I say, `Good for them,''' Newman wrote. ``Leave Echo Cove open as it has been for 50 years.''

In other action, the Board of Fisheries also adopted a new Dungeness management plan for all of Southeast, including new conservation tools that would allow the department to adjust or close the season while it is in progress, Coffey said.

Because of uncertainty about the size of the stocks, the board took a conservative approach, Coffey said. ``The debate was whether it was conservative enough.''

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