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By BILLY SINGLETON
Daily News Staff Writer
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game on June 25 began requiring permits for all sport, personal use and subsistence shrimp fishing in Southeast Alaska. Only commercial shrimpers were previously required to hold permits.
Fish and Game Ketchikan Area Manager Scott Walker said on Friday that declining commercial catches and limited data about overall shrimp harvests made the policy necessary.
The permit is free and works like a logbook, with fishermen required to log all of their catches. According to Fish and Game, 2,413 permits have been issued in Southeast Alaska, including 323 out of Ketchikan, as of Friday.
Walker said that Fish and Game has measured significant declines in commercial shrimp harvests in recent years and received complaints from commercial shrimp fishermen.
“In some of the areas, the declines have been huge,” Walker said. “Maybe we’re at 25 percent of the historical quota or half of the historical quota.”
But according to Walker, Fish and Game has little idea what the overall shrimp harvests look like because it doesn’t have catch information from other user groups. Walker said Southeast Alaska’s commercial shrimp fishery likely accounts for less than half of its overall shrimp harvests.
“... For example, in District 1 we have a commercial fishery that lasts a week or two. So, say, two weeks,” Walker said. “We know exactly how much shrimp is being harvested in that district for that time period. Every commercial fisherman has to make a landing and a report. But now, for the rest of the year, so, 11-and-a-half months, we have no idea how much shrimp is being taken out of these areas. So it makes sense, for us to be able to manage these stocks, to know how much shrimp is being removed, both commercial and from the other user groups.”
Walker said the decision was met with some surprise and resistance, but that most of those affected understood that Fish and Game is simply doing its job.
“That’s what resource managers do,” he said. “Their goal is to start programs to get more data to be able to see a clearer picture. … The picture wasn’t that clear, missing such a large component of the harvest.”
Walker said that the new permitting rule won’t have direct consequences for fishermen, aside from having to log their catch.
“In theory, nobody is going to change the way they fish,” Walker said. “What it’s really done is it’s another piece of regulation that people have to deal with. But it shouldn’t really make any changes. The benefit will be that now we will know how much harvest is taking place.”
Walker did say that the information would help Fish and Game determine what kind of future regulations might be necessary, if any. He noted the Clover Pass shrimp fishery as an example of an area that might currently be overfished, in which case the data would be beneficial.
“I think all of us benefit from having a healthy resource,” he said. “As effort and harvest grows, that’s just what is needed. That’s just what you have to do.”
Those participating in sport, personal use and subsistence shrimp fisheries can obtain the permit for free at the Department of Fish and Game offices or online. For more information, contact the Department of Fish and Game.