The Alaska Board of Fisheries will meet for the next two weeks to decide on fishing regulations for the Southeast and Yakutat regions. 

Unlike most years, the Alaska Board of Fisheries is joining both the shellfish and finfish hearings together for a two-week-long meeting in Sitka. While finfish, such as King Salmon, account for a majority of the meeting, the board will start with proposals on shellfish.

The board will consider a proposal regarding Dungeness crab seasons in Southeast. Proposal 235 would repeal a management plan that’s been in place since 2000. The current plan sets the summer and fall seasons based on catch from the first two weeks of each season.

Last year, that meant the seasons were reduced by half. The proposal would set both seasons at two-months each. 

“This seems like a good plan to update the fishery due to the loss of are due to sea otters,” says Joel Randrup, vice-chair of Petersburg’s Fish and Game Advisory committee.

The committee’s chair, Max Worhatch, recommended the proposal to the Board of Fisheries.

The Petersburg committee voted in support of this proposal, as did Wrangell’s Advisory committee.  

“If you have a two-month season, and if you only take the males and only six and a half inches you still leave enough breeding males on the ground to replenish the population,” says Chris Guggenbickler, the Wrangell chair.

Guggenbickler says sea mammals, mostly otters, are eating the crabs. This is reducing the stock. And regulations have responded by limiting areas to crabbers. Guggenbickler says this is one of the biggest factors influencing stock, and regulations, and it’s not likely to go away.

“Basically they’re eating us out of house and home. It’s not realistic in my opinion to manage all of our resources and not manage the top predator,” says Guggenbickler. 

Regulations are meant to do two things: conserve the stock and allow fishermen to make a living. That’s everyone’s hope, but individuals and advisory committees have different views on how to make that happen.

Proposal 54 would decrease the number of pots crabbers can use. Wrangell’s committee supports this, saying there is no need to concentrate pots in a reduced number of areas.

Peterburg’s committee disagrees. Again, here’s Randrup.

“We don’t want to reduce the gear. It would be hard to get that gear back if say the crabbing became good and you wanted to get that gear back,” says Randrup.

Another proposal seeks to increase the maximum number of pots allowed per vessel. And others propose to close some parts of Southeast to commercial Dungeness crabbing.

Proposal 63 recommends an exploratory harvest of king crab in certain parts of Southeast in years of low abundance. Petersburg’s committee supports this measure to build better data on king crab stock. Wrangell’s committee opposes the measure, saying fisherman from all over Southeast could end up swarming these areas.

Another king crab proposal would create an equal share fishery in low abundance years. Other Proposals seek changes to Tanner crab and golden king crab fisheries. Some seek changes to regulations for shrimp, sea cucumbers and geoduck clams.

Justin Peeler of Petersburg proposed to open a commercial seine fishery for Market Squid.  The proposal states that Oregon and California are making money from squid, so Southeast Alaska should too. It also says that if certain species are on the decline, then now is the time to embrace new fisheries.

The board meets January 11-14th on shellfish issues. The meeting is in Sitka.

Agendas, proposals, and proposal comments are available online.