Angler's Angle: Halibut are almost gone, but shellfish still remain

Posted: Sunday, October 05, 2003

It's that time of year again. The salmon and halibut are almost gone and most fishermen, if they haven't done so already, are cleaning up their boats and gear to wait out the long Alaska winter.

Fishing season is over for the majority of Juneau anglers, but there are still fishing opportunities out there. Although most of the salmon and halibut migrate to the open ocean, shellfish stay put, leaving a variety of prawns, shrimp and crab for ambitious fishermen to harvest.

Many people ask what the difference is between a shrimp and a prawn? Physically, they look very similar, but there is one sure way to tell them apart. In shrimps, or Carideans, the side plate of the second segment of the abdomen overlaps the segments in front and behind. Prawns, most of which belong to family Panaeidae of the group Dendrobranchiata, have all the abdominal side plates overlapping tile-like from the front.

There are many varieties of prawns and shrimp in local waters, but the most common seems to be the spot prawn. The spot prawn is the largest species, with females growing as large as 10 inches in total body length. It receives its name from conspicuous spots found on both sides of the first and fifth segments of the abdomen. Other species that can be found include coonstripe shrimp, sidestripe shrimp and pink shrimp, to name just a few.

Enough of biology class. Catching these prawns and shrimp is fairly easy - as long as you know where to fish for them. Prawns prefer rocky habitat over muddy bottoms because rocks give them protection from predators. They can be found in varying depths, but most commonly in 200 to 300 feet of water.

Shellfish may only be taken with pots, ring nets, or trawls; and in a new rule this year, all personal-use trawlers must obtain a permit from the Department of Fish and Game. Trawling is more of an active way to take shrimp and prawns, and consists of trolling with a net behind the boat that collects suspended shrimp.

However, the most common method of taking shrimp and prawns is with shrimp pots. This method closely resembles crab pot fishing, except shrimp pots are designed specifically for the smaller shellfish. Fish and Game allows the use of 10 pots per person at any one time and also allows shrimp pots to be longlined, reducing the need to have a buoy attached to every pot.

Longlining several shrimp pots in water depths of 200 to 300 feet can make pulling these from the bottom very difficult. Most fishermen use gas or electric pot-pulling gear to ease the strain. Pot-pulling gear can be added to almost any size boat or skiff. Prices for these rigs start at around $500 and can be purchased at several local boat dealers.

Shellfish season is open year-round with no bag limits and size restrictions - you can take as many as you like, whenever you want - a rarity in Alaska fishing regulations. Also, Dungeness crab season is open year round, and the limit is 20 per day with a 6 1/2-inch minimum shell size at the widest point including spines.

On another note: For the second year in a row, an emergency order closed the personal-use king crab season for area 11-A, which encompasses most of Juneau-area waters. According to Fish and Game officials, the season was closed on Sept. 7, after harvest numbers were analyzed and showed that they met the area harvest quota.

"What we do is try to make it last for the entire season," fisheries biologist Gretchen Bishop said.

However, the winter season will start Oct. 1 and run through March 31, 2004. Be aware that personal-use harvest permits must be returned to the Fish and Game by Oct. 15, whether you caught a king crab or not, and a new permit must be obtained for the winter season. Failure to return the harvest permits will result in forfeiture of future king crab permits.

• Jeff Kasper is a freelance writer and former Empire sportswriter; he can be reached at 209-7427.

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