The Alaska Board of Fisheries voted Thursday to keep the Southeast commercial Dungeness crab management plan in place.
The commercial harvest of Dungeness crab is based on the three S’s: size, sex and season. But the management plan has a harvest threshold in place so the Department of Fish and Game can close the fishery early if stocks seem low.
The board rejected a proposal that would get rid of the threshold and switch to management based only on size, sex and season.
John Jensen of Petersburg was the only board member in favor of the proposal. He said using size, sex and season has been a very good way to manage fisheries in Southeast.
“This threshold gave the department the ability to close it down early if they needed to and saw real low catch numbers. But with that in mind, a lot of those low catch numbers could be artificial sometimes and could get the season closed early because of lack of participation. That’s one of my concerns about the threshold part of the present management plan,” Jensen said.
Fish and Game advisory councils from Wrangell, Petersburg and Sitka also supported the repeal of the management plan.
But board member Tom Kluberton said he wanted to keep the management plan in place.
“When I see a regime management plan that’s worked for 30 years with only two seasons that weren’t ideal, I’m inclined to just leave it there,” Kluberton said. “I think the department, in good faith, has concerns about just moving to the standard ‘three S’ management style. And even though that’s working in some other states, we have an additional safeguard here.”
Board Chairman Karl Johnstone cited the closure of Yakutat’s commercial Dungeness fishery as a reason to be cautious in Southeast. He said there is still a lot we don’t know about the sustainability of Dungeness.
“The best information available, at this point, is the department’s information. And when we asked specific questions about whether they thought that the present management plan, combined with the three S’s, was the best way to prevent what occurred in Yakutat from occurring in the areas covered by the proposal, to me, that said it all,” Johnstone said.
The Board of Fisheries also voted to change Dungeness season start times from noon to 8 a.m. The change applies to both the summer and fall seasons, but the dates will stay the same.
Alaska Wildlife Trooper Captain Steven Hall said that would make the fall Dungeness season start at the same time as the Southeast shrimp fishery. Both fisheries will start at 8 a.m. on Oct. 1.
“As the seasons currently stand, we’re able to patrol the 8 a.m. opener for shrimp season and then concentrate on the Dungeness opener at noon. Putting those two together would cause a concern about us being able to effectively patrol both fisheries,” Hall said.
But board members unanimously supported the time change because of its potential to increase safety. An earlier start time gives fishermen more daylight hours on opening day of the fall season.
The Board of Fisheries will continue to address Southeast shellfish proposals through Monday.