PETERSBURG (AP) -- Southeast Alaska's Dungeness crab fishery will not be closed early, state fisheries officials announced this week.
Under a new management plan, the fishery could have been shut down in early July if estimated harvest rates based on the first week of fishing indicated low numbers of Dungeness.
Department of Fish and Game regional shellfish manager Doug Woodby told radio station KFSK that catch rates showed healthy stock levels.
''If our projection of the total season harvest is above 2.25 million pounds regionwide, then we take no action in terms of closing the fishery, and our projection was above that,'' Woodby said.
The regular summer season is June 15 to Aug. 15. The fall season is Oct. 1 to Dec. 1.
If the first-week catch showed a projected harvest level of 1.5 million pounds or below, state officials would have closed the summer fishery July 5 and canceled the fall season.
If the projected harvest was between 1.5 and 2.25 million pounds, fisheries officials would have closed the summer season in mid-July and halved the fall season.
The new management approach is the first time the Department of Fish and Game has restricted the fishery by means other than closing areas or seasons by emergency order.
Shellfish biologist Gretchen Bishop said the goal is to keep mature crab in the population longer.
''We need to assure that we'll continue to have a healthy fishery and the way to do that is to have a multiage class population,'' Bishop said. ''So we need to carry over some crab between years and we're not currently doing that.''
Woodby would not disclose the season projection but said areas in central Southeast have been productive.
Fishery managers say permit payments, a reasonable price and new entrants are putting more pressure on stocks.
Last winter the state Board of Fisheries established a Dungeness task force. Task force Chairman Albie Morin of Juneau said the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission allowed too many permits for the fishery.
''CFEC and the department does this all the time, they ring the dinner bell,'' Morin said. ''They say, 'Well, we might be going limited entry on this fishery,' and that makes a whole bunch of people enter the fishery with the hopes that they'll get a card that they can sell for money.
''Originally when they talked about making some sort of limited entry program with the dungy fishery, they were given a number by the department about the number of pots that could fish on the stocks sustainably. And CFEC in their ultimate wisdom gave out a third more pots on the water than the biologists said could fish on the stocks.''
Morin said the commission should be responsible for correcting the problem but acknowledged that the commission is not likely to buy back permits.
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