Close some commercial king crab areas

Posted: Thursday, August 17, 2000

An article July 21 quoted a person with commercial interest in the king crab fishery as saying that some personal fishers want commercial crab fishing stopped in Unit 11A because they are greedy. I dont think thats true, but I do believe commercial fishing for king crab should be closed in Unit 11A, the area on the back side of Douglas Island, north to Point Retreat, to the north end of Lincoln Island, and across the mainland.

The king crab fishery crashed in Southeast Alaska in the 1970s due to overharvest by commercial gear. It built back slowly, was opened again and some areas have crashed again. There may be no commercial opening this year for red king crab in Southeast because of low stocks.

I believe the reason for this is primarily overfishing by the commercial fleet. The reason for the overfishing can be partially attributed to the fact that the state Department of Fish and Game has not implemented management tools that would enable them to properly monitor and control harvest, such as a 500-crab delivery limit.

As happened in the Juneau area this last winter, boats from all over will flock to the areas with good stocks. In the Juneau area, Fish and Game expected four boats to fish and 10 more showed up from other areas. They took 213 percent of their quota, which totaled more crabs than both commercial and personal use were supposed to take from the area. Fish and Game cant count the crab until they are delivered; with the holding capacity of the boats, a small area can be severely overfished before the crab are delivered.

I dont buy the argument that the people in Juneau without boats would get no crab if they shut 11A down to commercial king crab fishing. The few days that the area is open for red king crab commercial fishing, commercial boats are not sitting at the dock selling crab. When the season is closed there may be a boat or two selling crabs, then its over. Most of the crab leaves the area with the boats that caught them, or are sold and flown out of town. The king crab that we see coming to the Juneau docks are mostly brown king crab and are taken in deeper waters than we have in 11A. The season for them is open much longer than the red king crab fishery. If commercial fishing boundaries are pushed out 10 miles, it wont stop the selling of king crab in town.

By closing 11A to the commercial fishery, the season will stay open longer for personal use. Juneau will get more crab; more crab will go to the people who cant afford to buy them and those over 65 that have other people fish for them by proxy. Another benefit I see is that the king crab stocks in this area will not be subject to the overharvest that commercial king crab fishing is so capable of.

The closing of Unit 11A to commercial fishing of king crab could have some benefit to the commercial fishery. When crashes occur in the areas outside 11A due to bad management or overfishing, 11A could serve as a preserve to help restock the surrounding areas.

The public has been very outspoken on this issue and have let their representatives know how they feel close 11A to commercial king crab fishing. But the public is not well-represented by the boards that make the rules. Commercial fisheries interests fill the majority of the seats on the boards and, to some extent, they represent their own interest.

The only way the public will be represented on the boards is if we can get the politicians making appointments to appoint a majority of seats to interests other than those representing commercial fishing. Commercial fishing interests cannot have the majority of votes if the public resource is to belong to the public. Even though commercial fishermen want to keep their resources healthy so their 95 percent will be worth something, their second interest is not necessarily the public. I wouldnt call it greed, but it is protecting your own.

It is time we make another effort at getting 11A closed to commercial fishing for king crab. Lets get another petition started, talk to the politicians again and do what we can to keep the king crab in our front yard reserved for personal use.

Alan Kegler has been a sport crab fisherman in Juneau for 25 years.

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