SITKA - The state Board of Fisheries on Sunday unanimously rejected a proposal to prohibit sport fishing for shrimp and Dungeness crab.
The board has been meeting in Sitka since Jan. 20.
Proposal 217 was intended to address what some see as a problem with enforcing laws related to charter-boat operators and lodge owners catching crab and shrimp for their out-of-state clients.
Under state regulations, guides, lodges and charter-vessel operators are prohibited from providing shellfish to clients. The captain and crew members also are prohibited from setting or retrieving gear.
Some people have said they believe that charter operators and lodge owners ignore the law and haul their own gear, fishing all summer long by changing buoys to supply shrimp and crab to their clients.
But board members said the problem raised in the proposal is enforcement, not the regulations.
"It's very difficult to enforce the regulations," said board member Larry Engel. "That seemed to be the focus of this proposal."
Under the proposal, visiting boaters, prospective Alaskans and relatives of Alaskans would be prevented from taking Dungeness crab or shrimp, members said. Alaskans would continue to be able to take those species in personal-use fisheries.
Board member Art Nelson recalled a recent cable TV program that showed a "blatant violation" by a charter deckhand who snapped a charter client's name onto a buoy and deployed a crab pot.
"It's an ongoing dialogue to look at enforcement issues and address the concerns that have been raised on this proposal," Nelson said.
Capt. Al Cain, enforcement representative at the board for the state Department of Public Safety, said the law is difficult to enforce without first-hand accounts that a charter operator had deployed or retrieved a crab or shrimp pot.
The Sitka Fish and Game Advisory Committee split on the issue. Those in favor of the proposal cited abuse under the current laws, while those opposed said the proposal would hurt a great number of people.
Sitkan William Stortz, who submitted the proposal, said after the vote Sunday that he had not really expected the proposal to pass.
He admitted the proposal was "pretty draconian," since it affected more than just charter operators and clients, but he felt the issue deserved some attention considering the value of the resource to Sitka.
"This is the kind of resource that can't handle being hammered constantly," he said.
Stortz also submitted a proposal to be considered at the Board of Fisheries meeting in Ketchikan in late February. That one, Proposal 362, would prohibit charter operators and employees from furnishing their clients with shellfish, and prohibiting operators from pulling shellfish gear with clients on board.
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