Crab fisheries, Yukon harvests, Bristol Bay on board agenda

The Alaska Board of Fisheries will discuss a range of new fisheries and increased opportunity for state crab management at its upcoming meeting March 17-21 in Anchorage at the Sheraton Hotel.

The proposals on before the board include requests to open commercial tanner crab fishing in Prince William Sound and sport tanner crab fishing in Cook Inlet, increase the golden king crab fishery in the Aleutian Islands, adjust the gear and species regulations in the Norton Sound king crab fishery, develop a red king crab fishery near Adak, and certain Bering Sea changes.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has also proposed regulatory and management changes to nearly all of the crab fisheries up for discussion — Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound, Kodiak, Chignik, the South Peninsula, Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea.

Adak Community Development Corp. submitted seven proposals that would develop certain regulations for a western Aleutian Islands red king crab fishery in state waters intended to be a small boat fishery prosecuted largely by local fishermen.

The proposals would develop new Adak and Petrel districts in Area O for a guideline harvest level, or GHL, fishery managed on a daily basis, with a July 1 opening date. The group has also asked the board to close the federal waters in the same area when the state-waters GHL is less than 250,000 pounds.

ADFG supported some of the proposals, but not all, noting concerns with reducing the timeline for registration or allowing non-ADFG officials to perform required inspections.

Adak Community Development Corp. is a nonprofit focused on local seafood harvesting and processing, and successfully argued for vessel size and pot limits for such a fishery at a prior meeting.

In public comments submitted to the board prior to the meeting, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers opposed the new fishery, citing a lack of information about it among other concerns.

Also in the Aleutians, the Golden King Crab Coalition has asked the board to increase the harvest limit for the golden king crab fishery, and Chad Hoefer, a crab fisherman, submitted a proposal to change the season in that fishery.

The coalition, which has worked on cooperative research in the fishery, would increase the total allowable catch, or TAC, by 15 percent, from 6.29 million pounds to 7.24 million pounds.

ADFG staff opposed increasing the quota in their written comments to the board, citing a lack of information about the stock.

Hoefer’s proposal would shift the fishery to May 15 to Feb. 15, rather than the current August to May timeframe.

ADFG staff opposed that proposal because it wouldn’t fit with the current timeline for setting the TAC, which happens after the North Pacific Fishery Management Council establishes the annual catch limit, or ACL.

Norton Sound Economic Development Corp., or NSEDC, the local Community Development Quota group, has proposed changes to the king crab fishery there. CDQ groups are six organizations representing 65 Western Alaska villages within 50 miles of the Bering Sea coast that receive 10.7 percent of the annual federal fishing quotas including pollock, crab and halibut.

NSEDC’s proposals would add spiny king crab to the defined king crab species, allow commercial fishermen to use hand lines, and change how the summer red king crab fishery quota is set.

ADFG opposed the change to the summer fishery harvest thresholds, although the proposal was largely a placeholder and did not specify how it would change the harvests.

The spiny king crabs are popular in Japan, and available in the winter crab fishery offshore from Nome. ADFG supports adding them to the defined species, which would mean they would no longer be characterized as miscellaneous shellfish.

Hand lines are a common subsistence tool in the Norton Sound region, but not allowed for the commercial fishery. ADFG was neutral on the allocative aspects, but noted that the proposal could enhance the winter fishery in years when the ice conditions are not conducive to fishing through the ice.

For Prince William Sound, stakeholders have asked for a new commercial tanner crab limits with various pot limits. In Cook Inlet, it’s a sport fishery that was requested.

For Kodiak, a fisherman has asked to close Alitak Bay to tanner crab fishing.

ADFG’s primary changes address registration issues, descriptions of fishing areas, weather-delay criteria, and tank inspection requirements in various areas and fisheries.

A Cook Inlet proposal, however, would change the department’s harvest strategy for tanner crab to base it on three years of information, rather than five, which ADFG staff wrote would reduce the chance of over-harvesting.

Another would change the harvest strategy for St. Matthew Island blue king crab. The proposal changes the threshold for considering opening the fishery, and reduce the proportion of legal males that can be harvested  

ADFG also proposed a handful of changes to the crab observer program, which would primarily clarify terms and how the program works.

Yukon River, Bristol Bay also up for discussion

The board will also tackle other non-crab proposals for the Yukon River and Bristol Bay at the meeting.

For Bristol Bay, the board is expected to consider a sport gear change on the Nushagak River and consider a navigational issue in the Ugashik setnet fishery.

The proposal would limit the configurations allowed for setting nets on certain parts of the Ugashik.

Written public testimony was submitted by a Juneau lawyer on behalf of several setnetters in the Ugashik fishery, however, who wrote that there is not a navigational issue and the change would be allocative.

On the Yukon, the board will consider modifying the fish wheel regulations, changing the restrictions on dipnet sizes and allowing purse seines for the summer chum fishery.

The Kuskokwim River could also be on the table, depending on whether or not an emergency petition is brought forward at the Anchorage meeting.

The Kuskokwim River Salmon Working Group has discussed filing an emergency petition asking for dipnets to be allowed in place of gillnets this summer, but the exact timing of when that should be submitted in order to accommodate the summer fishery had not yet been established. Emergency regulations are limited in duration.

Updated: 
11/15/2016 - 5:26pm