Bigger catch enjoyed by local crabbers who fish for personal use

Posted: Thursday, August 10, 2000

Jeff Monette likes his red king crab. He drops some crab pots in the summer, occasionally throws out a couple of net rings near his Douglas Island home, and even dives in wintry Barlow Cove just to get crab.

``They taste better because you risked your life for them,'' he said with a smile.

Monette was glad to see the quota for personal-use fishermen go up recently. The change resulted from the planned closure of this winter's commercial fishery because of low stocks regionwide.

Personal users -- who catch crab for their dinner table -- get the Juneau-area portion of the commercial quota in years when the Southeast commercial fishery is closed. The Board of Fisheries passed that regulation last year.

Juneau is the only part of Southeast to have such an arrangement, and it's because a large number of personal users fish near one of the region's most productive red king crab grounds.

About 1,450 people have permits for the Juneau personal-use fishery so far this season.

``Other families that buy crab across the dock and at local stores won't share in the resource,'' said Linnea Osborne, whose family catches crab commercially and as personal users.

With the commercial closure, the personal-use quota near Juneau almost doubled since the season's July 1 start to about 10,000 crab. A fifth of that is reserved for the winter fishery.

The daily bag limit is now three crab, with a seasonal limit of 20 crab for individuals and 40 crab for households. That's several times greater than in July, when low stocks were anticipated.

Giving the Juneau commercial quota to personal users has renewed long-standing charges of overfishing between the user groups.

``I've fished for a lot of years and I've never been as disgusted by anything,'' said Bud Samuelson, a commercial fisherman from Petersburg.

Many personal users want the commercial red king crab fishery permanently closed near Juneau. Commercial red king crabbers already are excluded from Gastineau Channel and some local bays.

Commercial crabbers flood the area with boats and have other places to fish, said Tom Miller of Juneau, who has crabbed for personal use for 16 years.

Some personal users didn't go out crabbing because the earlier bag and season limits were so low, Miller said. Even the latest seasonal limits are ``not generous at all,'' he said.

Catches have been good recently, but nothing like it was when the commercial fishery was closed for years, Miller said.

Some personal users say stocks are poor this year because of a large commercial overharvest near Juneau last November.

``That's the way we're all interpreting it,'' said Nick Yurko, a personal user who also sits on the Juneau-area advisory committee to the state Department of Fish and Game.

The state says commercial fishermen took less than their regionwide quota last year. A regional survey that determines whether to open the commercial fishery showed a low count regionwide this summer, said Doug Woodby, the marine fisheries research supervisor for Southeast.

Commercial fishermen said it's unfair to hold a large personal-use fishery when stocks are low. But the stock survey showed a good count of crab in areas near Juneau reserved for personal use, Woodby said.

That doesn't address the crab taken by personal users in commercial grounds, where they also are allowed to drop pots. Some commercial fishermen say it's the personal users who overfish.

Personal users report catches on their permits. But some permits aren't returned, and no one knows if the catches reported on permits are accurate.

Barbara Cadiente-Nelson, from a longtime commercial fishing family, said fishermen have seen personal users hauling in undersize crab or more crab than the bag limits allow.

``This leads us to believe we're being hard hit by personal-use fishermen who are not following regulations to protect the stock,'' she said.

Scott Kelley, the Southeast management coordinator for commercial fisheries, said enforcement of personal use bag and season limits has been a nightmare. The state will be more firm in not granting new personal-use permits to fishermen who haven't returned their previous ones, he said.

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