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Fall fisheries

Here in the “Salmon Capitol of the World,” it can be easy to forget that other seafood species are harvested commercially in the Ketchikan area.

Some of those fisheries are starting now. The commercial dive harvest seasons for geoduck clams, sea cucumbers and sea urchins — and the commercial shrimp pot season — are launching early this month in specified areas of Southeast Alaska.

These aren’t huge fisheries. Together, the dive harvest fisheries paid harvesters a total of about $8.66 million during the 2015/16 season, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s 2018 report to the Alaska Board of Fisheries. The commercial shrimp pot fishery paid about $2.1 million during the 2016-17 season.

That’s still a solid fall-season economic boost for the harvesters and Southeast Alaska communities involved in these fisheries.

In this sense, Ketchikan is fortunate in the ability to make use of these natural resources. We recall the work of many people, including the late Rep. Bill Williams of Saxman, in developing the dive harvest fisheries in Southeast Alaska. It wasn’t easy. Nor is the dive fisheries’ future guaranteed.

One big issue is the expanding range of sea otters. The voracious mammals quite enjoy shellfish, and they’ve made substantial inroads along the outer coast after being reintroduced in the 1960s. By 2010, they’d “turned the corner” around the southern end of Prince of Wales Island and into Clarence Strait. Solutions for managing the sea otter population have proven elusive, potentially threatening the long term viability of the dive fisheries — and others, such as Dungeness crab — in the region.

For this season, however, Fish and Game has set overall harvest quotas of about 637,000 pounds of geoduck clams, 1.9 million pounds of sea cucumbers, 3.53 million pounds of sea urchins and 508,700 pounds of pot shrimp in Southeast Alaska.

Here’s wishing good and safe seasons for all involved in the fall commercial fisheries. That includes the winter commercial troll season for chinook salmon, which is scheduled to start on Oct. 11. It’s great to have these commercial fisheries continuing here.