Crabbers sue federal regulators over snow crab harvest limits

Posted: Wednesday, April 26, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Bering Sea crab fishermen on Tuesday sued federal fishery managers claiming this month's snow crab harvest limit was too low.

The crabbers say they want a judge to allow a resumption of fishing so they can catch a total of 72 million pounds. A fleet of 231 boats caught about 30 million pounds during a one-week season ending April 8.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, was brought by 30 crab fishermen led by Gary Painter of Newport, Ore. Named as defendants were Commerce Secretary William M. Daley and Penny Dalton, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Last year Bering Sea fishermen were allowed to catch 196 million pounds of snow crab worth almost $175 million. In recent years, snow crab has been the mainstay of the crab fleet and the third most valuable fishery in Alaska, trailing only pollock and salmon.

But late last year fishery managers, citing a sudden drop in young crab, decided to cut this year's catch limit by about 85 percent -- a devastating financial hit to crab fishermen and processors.

As soon as this month's brief season ended, crabbers appealed to extend the season. Painer says his group filed the lawsuit because the fisheries service is moving too slowly in considering the appeal.

''All the crabbers are disappointed and frustrated,'' Painter said.

This year's snow crab season produced surprisingly strong catch rates, and even some government scientists aren't convinced this year's lower catch rate will help the snow crab stock recover more quickly, Painter said.

But conservationists have urged fishery managers to limit the harvest to prevent another scenario like the wipeout of the Kodiak king crab fishery in the early 1980s.

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