Alaska’s Board of Fish this month for the most part voted down proposed closures for commercial Dungeness crabbing around Southeast. However, the board during a meeting in Wrangell did support closed areas around Angoon and Hoonah.
Southeast residents and communities submitted 10 proposals this year seeking to place areas off-limits to the commercial Dungeness crab fleet. Most sought the closed areas to improve personal use or subsistence crabbing nearby some Southeast towns.
However, the board was not too receptive to shutting down areas to commercial crabbing without evidence of conservation problems in the areas. The board voted down a proposed closure near Hydaburg on Prince of Wales Island as well as one proposed on another part of Prince of Wales, at Whale Pass. Board chair Karl Johnstone called the Whale Pass proposal an area grab without justification.
“And when I say grab I don’t mean it to demean the proposal,” Johnstone said. “But it just describes it as taking away areas that have historically been utilized by commercial fisheries for not a good reason and there’s a lot of opportunity available for the people who are in favor of this.”
Two of the proposals sought closed areas to the commercial fleet around Petersburg. Proponent Steve Burrell wanted to improve crabbing for local personal use fishing. Burrell argued that intense commercial crabbing in the summertime around Petersburg left too few legal crab for people to catch for their dinner table.
Board member John Jensen of Petersburg opposed the closure.
“I’ve never seen a time when I could go down in this area and dump a pot out overnight and come back and get all I needed for my personal use with some left over for my family members,” Jensen said. “So I’m definitely not going to be supporting this. This would actually close a very large, both of them would close a very large area to commercial fishing and they’re both real lucrative commercial fishing areas.”
Other board members thought the area around Petersburg was important for new commercial crabbers getting a start in the fishery and did not see a conservation problem with crab stocks around Petersburg. The board voted unanimously against the first Petersburg proposal and took no action on the second. They were also unanimous in voting down a closure in the Big Bear-Baby Bear state marine park in Peril Strait north of Sitka. That closure was requested to eliminate crab gear in an anchorage used by boats waiting to go through Sergius Narrows.
Board member Tom Kluberton of Talkeetna did not see the justification.
“It just seems as though Sitka’s quite a cosmopolitan place,” Kluberton said. “There may be pressure but there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity around there and we’ve heard there’s already some closed areas to commercial fishing. The distance from Sitka to this just makes me feel it’s much more appropriate just leave it open to commercial fishing and if folks wanna go in there for the weekend and drop a pot or two there’s nothing stopping em from doing that.”
The fate was the same for two other proposed closures near Juneau and one in the Chilkat and Chilkoot inlets near Haines. There was some support for two of the proposals. Board member Kluberton supported a closure around the community of Angoon.
“Just feel that with the subsistence nature of life in Angoon that we’d have a more orderly fishery in the area without contention between commercial and the subsistence users in this vicinity.”
The city of Angoon submitted a proposal for a much larger commercial closure around that village to make sure residents sport and personal use needs could be met. That proposal was amended for a reduced area, a change supported by board member Orville Huntington of Huslia.
“I think the area of the original proposal was much too large and the smaller area I’m much more comfortable with it and I think it will provide for a more orderly fishery,” Huntington said.
The board unanimously approved that closure around Angoon. Likewise they approved an amended commercial closure around Hoonah. The Hoonah Indian Association sought a larger closure but the board agreed to a smaller area.
“Again I think there’s a long history of use of Dungeness crab in this area and again to avoid conflicts with commercial fishers whom I understand in recent years there has been an occasional incursion into this area, if that’s the proper way to describe it by new entrants to the fisheries,” said board member Fritz Johnson of Dillingham. “I understand that some of the older generation of fishermen have traditionally avoided this but to avoid those kinds of conflicts in the future I think this deserves our support.”
There are 14 areas of Southeast already closed to commercial Dungy crabbing under state regulation.