ANCHORAGE - For the first time in 19 years, commercial boats have joined the Prince William Sound shrimp fishery.
The Anchorage Daily News reports about 155 commercial boats headed out Thursday with sport shrimpers from Whittier, Valdez and Cordova.
The Alaska Board of Fisheries approved the commercial shrimp fishing plan in March.
The Fish and Game Department estimates a surplus of 137,200 pounds of spot shrimp above the number needed to sustain a healthy population in the sound. Sport and subsistence shrimpers get about 82,000 pounds and commercial shrimpers have a 55,000 pound limit.
Fish and Game has raised the pot limit for sport and subsistence shrimpers to eight pots per person, up from five pots a year ago.
"It just amazes me how many new people keep coming," said Palmer shrimp pot builder Steve Kalek. "They're just wonderful things to eat, but it still amazes me how it grows year to year."
"It's a popular fishery, especially since the (Anton Anderson Memorial) Tunnel opened," said Fish and Game area management biologist Dan Bosch. "This time of year, shrimp tend to be in shallower water, too."
Bosch said slightly lower water temperatures in the sound over the past few years favor crustaceans over finfish, triggering the population boom.
That, in turn, has led to growing interest in sport shrimping, which entails an investment of several hundred dollars in pots, lines and buoys to get started - as well as the cost of a boat or charter.
"They're the best shrimp you'll find anywhere in the world," said Jim Muhar, who often takes clients shrimping aboard his Alaska Prince William Sound Charters vessel. "So sweet you don't need to put anything on them."
Spot shrimp are the largest of Alaska's five shrimp species - spot, coonstripe, sidestripe, humpy and northern.
Locating them can be tricky, though. Shrimp live at a variety of depths in an assortment of habitats. Rock piles, coral gardens and pinnacles all can be productive.