KETCHIKAN - Aquaculture sites leased to geoduck clam farmers will be opened to commercial divers to clear out wild stocks.
The one-time fishery is aimed at resolving a dispute over who gets to harvest wild geoducks on farm sites.
The one-time fishery could begin as soon as March 1 and will continue for 45 days after opening, according to the Department of Fish and Game.
The state has leased 27 mariculture sites in the Ketchikan region to geoduck farmers. Most are south of Ketchikan and others are adjacent to Etolin Island.
The dispute between lease holders, the Fish and Game Department and commercial harvest divers centered on whether lease holders could harvest wild geoducks.
In April, the Alaska Supreme Court upheld a Superior Court ruling that the department did not have the authority to give aquatic farmers exclusive rights to existing wild stocks.
In announcing the special fishery Friday, the department made reference to the decision. To comply, the department had to ensure that farm sites did not have significant populations of wild geoducks.
The court defined a significant population as one that would attract and support a commercial fishery.
When the fishery opens, there will be no guideline harvest levels. The intent will be to remove the commercially significant population of wild stock geoducks from the sites, according to the department.
The department is deciding which sites will have fisheries, said Craig Farrington, acting mariculture coordinator.
"It's not likely there will be fisheries on all 27," he said.
Phil Doherty, a state commercial fisheries biologist, said only limited assessment has been done on some sites.
"The department is not going to speculate on what the harvest potentially could be," he said.
The department plans to open areas for 45 days, with daily fishing periods of five to seven days a week.
The fishery will not be managed like the regular commercial fishery, which has a protocol for testing fishing areas for paralytic shellfish poisoning so that geoducks can be sold in the more lucrative "live" market.
Fish and Game anticipates that much of the harvest will be processed rather than sold live.
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