The roughly 1,000 locals who catch king crab for their dinner can take more home.
New rules, effective Thursday in the Juneau area, doubled the daily personal-use bag and possession limit to two crab, and doubled the seasonal bag limit to 10 per person and 20 per household.
Fishermen welcomed the new, looser rules. It wasn't worth dropping pots for the smaller bag limits imposed since the season's start on July 1, they said.
``A lot of guys said the heck with it, they weren't even going to go out for one crab,'' said Mike Bethers, a board member of the Territorial Sportsmen.
But a taste of those restrictions, coupled with a large overharvest by commercial fishermen this winter near Juneau, has renewed their desire to close the area to commercial king crabbing, personal users said.
Last year, the state Board of Fisheries rejected a request by local sportsmen to do that. But it gave personal users in the Juneau area more of the quota, and let them have all the quota in years when the commercial fishery is closed because of low stocks in Southeast.
``My concern all along, and other guys too that crab fish out there, is it's an extremely small area,'' said Al Risley, who drops a couple of pots to catch his dinner and put something away for the winter. ``The commercial guys fishing it can overfish so easily.''
Linnea Osborne, whose family participates in the commercial and personal-use king crab fisheries, said it's short-sighted to view the issue as us vs. them.
Some Juneau residents rely on commercial fishermen for their king crab, which is sold across the dock and partly to local stores, she said. The Juneau-area crabbers hire local crews and provide the city with fish tax revenues, she said.
State fishery managers said the limits on personal users weren't imposed because of the local winter commercial catch, which at 11,463 crab was more than twice the quota.
The state manages the two quotas separately, said Scott Kelley, the Southeast management coordinator for commercial fisheries. In any case, about 85 percent of the personal-use catch near Juneau is from waters already closed to commercial fishing, he said.
The earlier bag limits were due, instead, to a lower quota combined with expected rising numbers of personal users and uncertain catch reports, Kelley said. The limits were intended to stretch the fishery through the winter.
The state relaxed the limits Thursday because a recent stock survey showed enough crab to raise the personal-use quota for the year to 6,200 crab from 5,700 crab, Kelley said.
It also turned out that the number of personal-use permits issued by mid-July is about the same as in previous years, and the estimated catch is less, Kelley said. Nearly 1,150 permits have been issued, with an estimated catch of 750 crab.
Osborne, of the commercial and personal-use fishing family, said ``there are some people who like to make the big battle cry that commercial fishermen are taking all the crab. They aren't.''
In some years, commercial fishermen take fewer crab than their quota in the Juneau area, and the personal users take more than their quota, she said.
A lot of personal users don't submit their permits, which list catches, to the state as required, and they're taking a greater portion of the overall quota than is reported, Osborne said.
Fishery manager Kelley agreed some personal-use permits aren't returned, and the state doesn't know how many of those were fished or what the catch was.
Last season, for example, the personal-use quota was 7,400 crab. Fishermen reported taking 6,930, but the state estimates that 8,100 crab were really taken, assuming that some of the unreturned permits were fished.
The crab available for local personal users could jump by about 4,000 if the regionwide stock survey doesn't justify holding a commercial fishery in Southeast. That information should be available early next month, Kelley said.
Meanwhile, the state will try to prevent a commercial overharvest in the future. Fishery managers this winter didn't anticipate an influx of boats from outside the area after the season started, swelling the usual number of boats from five to 14, Kelley said.
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