The state Board of Fisheries opted against creating additional opportunity to harvest tanner crabs in Cook Inlet Thursday, although it made other changes to existing crab fisheries in the area.
The board passed the other Cook Inlet proposals unanimously. One adjusts the Kachemak Bay tanner crab fishery season; now, crab fishing there will run from Sept. 1 to March 31. That’s meant to help protect soft shell crabs. Generally, new shell crabs harden by early fall, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game Management Biologist Jan Rumble.
The tanner crab fishery in Cook Inlet has been closed in recent years, but the changes adjust regulations for the future when the stock is at a level that will allow for a harvest. The board discussed the fishery management changes at its triennial statewide king and tanner crab meeting, which is being held in Anchorage this week.
The date change was proposed by the Homer Advisory Committee, although the original proposal called for an Oct. 15 date. The Sept. 1 amendment was intended to still provide some fishing opportunity, while balancing concern about the stock.
The other proposal changes the harvest strategy for a portion of the Kachemak Bay tanner crab fishery near Anchor Point and the Kamishak and Barren Islands, so that ADFG uses the three-year average stock abundance to determine whether to open the fishery, rather than the five-year average.
Rumble said the switch would be more biologically appropriate than the current timeline. Many of the tanners in Cook Inlet reach a terminal molt in three years, Rumble said.
The shorter timeline would also be more responsive to shifts in stock abundance.
If abundance rose, the fishery could open more quickly; if abundance dropped, it could close more quickly.
Joe Hanes’ proposal to allow noncommercial tanner crab harvest at times of lower abundance failed in a 3-4 vote, with board members Karl Johnstone, Reed Morisky and Orville Huntington supporting the new fishery.
That would have created a small guideline harvest level for noncommercial fishing in November and February when the stock doesn’t meet the threshold for a full-blown fishery, but there are at least 50,000 legal male crabs according to the survey estimate. That failed, so the old Cook Inlet regulation will remain in place, which requires 100,000 legal male crabs to open the noncommercial fisheries.
ADFG Division of Sport Fish Regional Fisheries Management Coordinator Tom Vania said the department did not anticipate a tanner crab fishery for at least three years.
Based on the trawl survey results from 2012 and 2013, which estimated 20,000 and 38,000 legal males, respectively, the fishery would not have opened in those years even under the proposed less-restrictive fishery.
Board members John Jensen, Tom Kluberton, Sue Jeffrey and Fritz Johnson opposed the lower threshold for opening a fishery.
Kluberton cited concerns about the stock, and all indicated a preference for allowing the stock to rebuild before harvesting it.
Early in the discussion, Johnstone questioned ADFG staff about the proposal, and said he had heard from individuals in the community that there was a concern that the trawl survey estimating crab abundance was inaccurate, and that the department was just waiting to open any fishery until there was enough crab for a commercial fishery. He and others supporting the proposal referred to a desire to allow Alaskans the opportunity to harvest some crab in Cook Inlet.
Noncommercial fisheries would have included a sport fishery, however, and that would have allowed for nonresident participation as well. Johnstone said staff estimated that about 10 percent of the sport harvest would come from nonresidents.
Other Gulf of Alaska crab fishery proposals were also discussed.
The board unanimously voted it down a new commercial tanner crab fishery in Prince William Sound in part because of information from ADFG that the stock abundance would not allow for a harvest in the next three years. There is a subsistence tanner fishery in PWS. Other smaller regulation changes for that region passed.
Molly Dischner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.