Ire over crab

Commercial fleet: Closure is unnecessary

Posted: Thursday, August 10, 2000

Barbara Cadiente-Nelson of Juneau said she was devastated when she heard her family would not be able to fish red king crab commercially this year.

``We were all looking forward to this,'' said Cadiente-Nelson, whose family has three generations in the fishery. ``We're so regulated now that every season counts in making it through the year.''

What's worse, some fishermen think the red king crab fishery in Southeast was closed unnecessarily. But the state says there just aren't that many crab out there.

The state recently canceled the fishery, scheduled for November, because a survey showed low stocks. The closure directly affects 70 to 80 fishermen, their crews and processors. The fishery typically has been worth $1 million to $2 million to fishermen as a whole.

``My crew guys are sitting on the beach wondering what they're going to do for Christmas,'' said Bud Samuelson, a Petersburg fisherman.

Some crabbers think the stock survey underestimated the number of crab. They said the state dropped its sampling pots in areas where there weren't many crab. They also said the state used a lightweight crab pot that is pushed around by tides, which makes it harder for crab to climb in to get to the bait.

``That's absolutely the worst gear you could use to catch king crab,'' Samuelson said.

But the state is confident its survey accurately represents the crab population.

The state's random samples were taken in the same fishing grounds it has used for the past 21 years, said Doug Woodby, marine fisheries research supervisor for Southeast. Those areas are chosen because they provide up to 70 percent of the crabbers' catch.

It's true the state gradually has switched from the large heavy square pots to smaller and lighter cone pots, Woodby said. He said more of those pots fit on a boat, and the state can get a broader sample of crab.

The state sampled for years with the two pot types side by side to learn how to convert catch figures from cones to square pots, Woodby said.

``That's not an issue for this survey. There simply weren't that many crab around,'' he said.

Under the state's management plan, the fishery opens only if there are at least 300,000 pounds of surplus large male crab. That's the figure crabbers once recommended for a profitable fishery.

But over the years the number of pots allowed on a boat has dropped from 100 to 20, and some crabbers would like to see a threshold lower than 300,000 pounds.

It looks like the harvestable surplus this year is about 200,000 pounds, Woodby said.

The closure ``definitely leaves a production gap,'' said Eric Norman, general manager of Taku Fisheries in Juneau.

The closure might mean fewer hours of work or layoffs for processor workers, Norman said. Small processors and people who buy live crab for export will be hit the hardest, he said.

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