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Fishermen on marks for crab opening

Southeast's harvest level boosted 35,000 pounds this season

Posted: Monday, February 15, 2010

A good salmon, halibut or cod captain is considered "fishy" by peers when knowing where to bring in the big catch. The attitude on the docks this past week indicates that Juneau's shellfish crews will be calling the captains in their wheelhouses "crabby" as the first pots begin to launch overboard today.

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Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

The brown (or golden) king and tanner crab seasons begin at noon.

"We're excited about the stronger recruit class coming up, especially in the Frederick Sound area," said Jason Kohlhase, skipper of the Morgan Anne. "We have a healthy fishery, so it is a lot of fun."

Recruit crabs are those just entering the fishery that last year were sub-leglas, or juveniles too small to keep.

The strong recruit class this season resulted in an overall 35,000-pound increase in Southeast's harvest level, up to 625,000 pounds.

About 40 boats registered to fish brown crab, and 48 registered for tanner. Often the same vessels fish for both species.

Brown crab will fetch a price-per-pound of up to $4. Tanner is expected to net up to $1.80.

An increase in the brown crab catch, combined with a tanner season expected to be the longest in a decade, is likely to keep fishers content.

"We are going to be tanner fishing," Seaview Capt. John Etheridge said. "It is usually cold and nasty out there, but we just like getting out on the water and putting pots in. It is a nice life. Hopefully the money at the end will be the best part."

Pre-season surveys identified a larger abundance of mature male tanner crabs, allowing the fishing season extension.

The tanner season will be open between eight and 13 days, depending on the amount of crab caught in certain areas.

The brown crab season stays open until the harvest level is reached.

The state Department of Fish and Game expects the fishing effort to be high in Frederick Sound area, Shellfish Management Specialist Joe Stratman said.

Many Juneau fishermen have not targeted Frederick Sound as past stocks were even throughout the districts and, more importantly, it is easier to fish closer to home, especially with fuel prices increasing.

This crab season comes after a lull in the fishing calendar.

Forty-year fisherman Norval Einer Nelson and his F/V Star Of The Sea crew are eager to begin.

"We've spent a long time sitting around so we are all raring to go do something," F/V Star Of The Sea Captain Norval Einer Nelson said. "It is one of the fisheries where we have a little bit of time to prepare for. And we have different areas to fish and some go longer than others."

Like many, Nelson will fish as much crab as possible, unload in Juneau, switch boat gear to herring seines and head to Sitka for the herring sac roe fishery. This has the docks bustling with activity and keeps the U.S. Coast Guard busy as well.

"We try to make ourselves as available as possible to get everybody a dockside safety exam," Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Examiner Scott Wilwert said. "It's a voluntary program but here in Juneau participation by the crabbers is pretty much 100 percent. They realize it is better to be squared away here on the dock than sent back into town if an infraction is discovered while fishing."

• Contact Klas Stolpe at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.



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