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By BILLY SINGLETON
Daily News Staff Writer
The commercial pot shrimp harvest season for the Ketchikan area has gone quickly, as has been typical in recent years, though some areas remain open.
After the season’s opening on Oct. 1, Districts 1 through 3 in southern Southeast Alaska closed in about two weeks. Some of District 4, which sits on the western-most edge of southern Southeast Alaska, is still open.
Department of Fish and Game Assistant Area Management Biologist Justin Breese attributes the season’s brevity to higher-than-average market demand and relatively high catch rates.
“It seemed like we had a bit of both,” Breese said. “The catch rates are up in certain areas. And the demand is up, so people were fishing in weather that they wouldn’t necessarily fish in [otherwise].”
Breese added that high market demand for shrimp has caused a steady rise in fishing effort — from 16 boats in District 1 five years ago to 23 this year.
The 2017-2018 overall guideline harvest limit for districts 1 through 4 was about 258,000 pounds. That number falls slightly below the area’s 10-year average harvest of about 325,000 pounds.
District 4, which is on the western-most edge of south Southeast Alaska, often stays open longer because of its exposure to the ocean, which makes fishing more difficult.
The fishery season closes by regulation on Feb. 28.
The harvest season for sea cucumbers is also winding down.
Divers harvest the aquatic echinoderm from the seafloor, after which they’re typically dried and sold to Asian markets.
The harvest rates usually slow around this time of year, with most easy-to-harvest “cukes” gone by Thanksgiving. Now only one nearby harvest area remains open, East Dall Island. The area, which sits in management district, still has a significant amount of GHL remaining — about 11,000 pounds.
Petersburg and Sitka each still have one small area open too.
Breese said that this year’s total harvest is about average, and similar to that of last year. There has been a population decline in some areas, but it was offset by climbing prices, which have incentivised harvesting. This season’s price hovered around $5.40.
Cucumber populations in some areas have been hindered by sea otter predation. The department has removed several areas from the fishery for that reason. But Breese says populations in areas unaffected by the trend are fairly steady.
The department announces area openings each week, until each area’s GHLs are met or until March 31.
The openings announced for next week are:
• Eastern shore of Dall Island and Soda Bay (Subdistrict 103-40) wil be open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday.
• The South Mitkof and North Zarembo Islands (108-30) and Southern Sitka Sound (113-38 and 41) areas will be open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday, and from 8 a.m. to noon on Tuesday.