SE shrimpers are feeling the squeeze

Tight management means no fresh shrimp are available most of the year

Posted: Sunday, October 16, 2005

This is how the winter pot shrimp fishery goes in Southeast Alaska these days.

If you blink, you'll miss it.

With some exceptions, most prime commercial areas for spot and coonstriper shrimp in the Panhandle close down after just a few days because they've hit their guideline harvest level.

It's enough to make some of the longtime shrimpers, like Dennis Capua, get a bit frustrated.

"It used to be open year-round," said Capua, who got into the fishery in 1984.

These days, there's a lot more interest in the fishery. Participation started getting more intense about 10 years ago and hasn't slacked off yet, state biologists said this week.

Capua and some other shrimpers and processors wish the state of Alaska would change something - anything - to stretch out the shrimping season.

"It's gotten pretty messed up. Nobody can figure it out," Capua said.

"The fleet focuses on the area where the harvest is strong. Those areas close pretty quickly," explained David Harris, an assistant regional management biologist for commercial fisheries with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The fishery quota is strictly managed because it is not that difficult to overfish shrimp without even noticing it.

All large spot shrimp are female. The crustacean starts its life as a male and converts to a female when it reaches a certain size.

"It makes sense. A larger animal can put out more eggs," Harris explained.

The fear the state has is that "everyone is targeting the large shrimp. You have the capability of wiping them out," Harris said.

In Tenakee Inlet this year, the fishery closed after five days. Last year, the fishery lasted for three days, but more boats participated that year, fishermen said this week.

The downside of short seasons is that no fresh shrimp are available from Southeast Alaska most of the year.

"If (the state) could split the season, we would have fresh product more of the time," said Horst Schramm, owner of Horst's Alaskan Seafood.

"Shrimp don't last long in the freezer," Schramm added.

There are about 300 pot shrimp permits in Southeast Alaska and not many of them are up for grabs. A permit could cost $21,000 to $25,000, depending on the seller.

"I started doing this when there were only eight permits," Capua said.

Stewart DeWitt, of Haines, bought his pot shrimp permit two years ago and thinks it was a good decision to join the fishery, which netted about $4 million total for fishermen in 2004.

DeWitt is like many shrimpers in the fleet. He fishes commercially for salmon in the summer and longlines for bottomfish in the spring.

It's because of this kind of salmon-dominant fishing schedule that the state is unlikely to split up the shrimping season.

If the season is split up so that some fishermen can set pots out in the spring or summer, "it might exclude guys who have traditionally done it," said Harris, who is with Fish and Game.

"It has always traditionally been a winter fishery," Harris said.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.



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