Commerce secretary rejects appeal to reopen crab fishery

Posted: Monday, June 12, 2000

UNALASKA (AP) -- The U.S. Secretary of Commerce has rejected an appeal to reopen the opilio crab season this summer, but Bering Sea crabbers are hoping a federal judge in Seattle will find the decision was made without sufficient evidence.

The decision, by Commerce Secretary William Daley, was handed down May 30.

Daley's formal rejection clears the way for a lawsuit filed by 28 crab boat owners against the federal government. The lawsuit charges that the Commerce Department didn't do a thorough review of crab stock data before making its decision and essentially approved state findings without more analysis.

Federal District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein will hear arguments in the case in Seattle on June 19.

''We assumed he'd rule against us,'' said Tom Casey, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Group, a Seattle-based group of crabbers.

Last September, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game determined the crab stocks had been significantly overfished, endangering the crabs' long-term survival.

Some 250 vessels hauled in 196 million pounds of crab last year, earning about $190 million.

The Alaska state agency, whose work is overseen by the Commerce Department, slashed the harvest quota, allowing crabbers to catch only 26 million pounds this year. They made their quota in a single week in April.

The crabbers say their experts believe up to 50 million more pounds of crab could be harvested without damaging stocks.

At the least, Casey said, crabbers want biologists to explain why the April fishery was so successful if opilio stocks are dramatically depleted.

''We want to get those scientists on the stand and explain the contradictions,'' Casey said.

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