Commercial Dungeness crab fishery hurts stocks

Posted: Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The village of Kasaan was successful in getting an out-of-cycle agenda change to the Alaska Board of Fisheries. This agenda change will address the impact and additional concerns inflicted by the 2009 summer commercial Dungeness crab fishery.

Keeping this Dungeness crab fishery opened is detrimental to the sustainability of the fishery. This fishery was opened last year for the first time since it shut down in the mid-1980s. It was closed back then because of sustainability reasons.

The 2009 summer commercial Dungeness crab fishery reduced Kasaans Dungeness crab harvest by 97 percent, which left the Kasaan residents only catching about 3 percent for their customary and traditional catch levels. The summer commercial Dungeness crab fishery in districts No. 1 and 2 opened June 15 and closed Aug. 15. Most of the legal non-soft shelled crabs were caught in the first two to three weeks and the fleet that stayed longer was just scratching for any legal hard-shelled crab.

The summer commercial Dungeness crab fishery in districts No. 1 and 2 also had a drastic affect on the fall commercial fishery in these two districts, as that catch in this fishery fell by 50 percent, according to Fish and Game statistics.

Fish and Game statistics also indicated the dead loss for the 2009 season increased by as much as 10 times over 2002-03 and as much as 24 times over 2006-07. This is from information gathered at the processing facilities when crabs were delivered. There is no dead loss information gathered on the fishing grounds in districts 1 and 2, but studies conducted in Kodiak indicate that there is a 40- to 50-percent mortality rate on caught and released soft-shelled crab. And the more times the same undersized or soft-shelled crab is handled, its chance of surviving drops drastically.

Studies show that a Dungeness crab that is handled four times does not survive. These figures from this commercial fishery are astronomical; the total Dungeness crab caught by sport, personal use and subsistence users is only 1 percent of the total caught commercially. The Southeast Alaska summer commercial Dungeness crab fishery is the only summer commercial crab fishery opened on the West coast.

The residents of Kasaan only got 3 percent of their normal customary and traditional catch levels. The statistics indicate that the fall commercial Dungeness crab fishery only caught about 50 percent of its normal catch. This is evidence enough to show that this summer commercial crab fishery is nonsustainable and must be stopped. State law provides that a fishery may only continue if it is sustainable yield.

Proposal 195, generated by Kasaan's agenda-change request, is scheduled to be heard during the Board of Fisheries meeting March 16-20 in Anchorage.

All letters submitted in the past concerning this Dungeness crab fishery should be resubmitted referring to proposal No. 195. Written letters received prior to March 2 can be as long as 100 pages. Written comments received after March 2 or later are limited to 10 pages. You must be present at the March 16 meeting prior to 10 a.m. to sign up for oral testimony. Oral testimony will be limited to three minutes.

Southeast Alaska residents are urged to write letters describing the difficulty they experience trying to get their subsistence crab. We have to all stand up and be counted showing the Board of Fisheries what this summer commercial Dungeness crab fishery has done to our subsistence needs. Please direct letters to Jim Marcotte, executive director, Alaska Board of Fisheries, and P.O. Box 115526, Juneau, Alaska, 99811-5526.

• Ronald Leighton is the chairman of the Customary, Traditional and Cultural Committee of the village of Kasaan.

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