Some sport fishermen may be in for a surprise this spring if they're using the increasingly popular rigid wire-mesh shellfish traps, some of which are being called into question around Juneau.
This is the first year that Willie's Marine has been selling the so-called "rigid" pots.
"I had one customer that had his down in Gastineau Channel, and he told me they've been confiscated," general manager Kent Adams said. "I told him that if there was a problem, we'd make it right. And then I followed it up and made it right and got ahold of Fish and Game Wildlife Protection."
Quality Products Northwest, the manufacturer of the pots in question, has provided the store with wire-mesh flaps, clasps and cotton twine to retrofit the faulty pots. The traps can be fixed with a pair of wire cutters in 15 minutes.
The problem is not limited to Quality Products Northwest or pots sold at Willie's. Sport fishermen should check with their trap dealers, and review the regulations online at http://www.cf.adfg.state.ak.us/geninfo/regs/cf_regs.php, to ensure that their pots are designed to code.
One of the most common problems is the design of the escape door for shellfish. According to Fish and Game regulations, one sidewall of a shrimp trap must contain an opening "a minimum of six inches in length." The hatch must "be within six inches of the bottom of the pot and must be parallel with it." It must be secured by a length of 100-percent cotton twine, designed to rot in six weeks.
If the pot is abandoned at the bottom of the sea, the hatch will come open when the cotton rots, and the shrimp will have an escape route. Otherwise, the pots could trap bottom fish for perpetuity.
Some pots are advertised as being designed for Alaska waters, but have an escape hatch just five inches in length.
Sgt. Steve Hall of the Alaska Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement said troopers have not impounded more traps than usual this spring.
"But it's a common theme, because a lot of the shrimp pots that are used now are the rigid-mesh pots, rather than the way it used to be with the soft-sided," he said. "It applies not only to shrimp pots, but also to crab pots. Certainly rigid pots are sold for Dungeness crab and even king and tanner crab."
Troopers from the Alaska Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement randomly pull pots from the water to measure if they're up to specification.
"If they're illegal, we seize them and contact the owners," Hall said. "Generally, with personal-use and sport-fish gear we try to explain to the owners how they can correct the pots so that it will be legal. They're issued a citation, but they get their pots back, generally."
Fines can cost $100, with a $10 surcharge.
"We see a large number of pots in the water in the spring and summer," Hall said, "but there's not a specific time of year when we see more violations."
Korry Keeker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.