Haines and Skagway closed to shrimping

There was a time when visitors to Haines and Skagway could easily catch heaps of shrimp. That was before the shrimp ran out.

There was a time when visitors to Haines and Skagway could easily catch heaps of shrimp.

That was before the shrimp ran out.

Last week, the Alaska department of Fish and Game announced the Lynn Canal would remain closed to shrimp sport fishing.

This will be the third consecutive year that the area is closed.

Commercial shrimp fishing is closed in the area as well, although the local subsistence fishery will be open.

The closures continue because the significantly depressed shrimp stocks in the area have not been rebounding.

The shrimp population began declining steadily between 2001 and 2005.

“It was noticed first by people shrimping in Skagway for subsistence and sport use, that their catches were declining,” said assistant area management biologist Richard Chapell.

“They brought it to the attention of the commercial fisheries biologist, who noticed that the commercial catches were also declining.”

The commercial pot shrimp fishery in Lynn Canal was closed in 2006.

There was a parallel sport-fishing closure in Chilkat, Chilkoot, Lutak and Taiya Inlets — the area of the Lynn Canal north of Seduction Point.

“We do expect shrimp stocks to rebound,” said Chapell.

“They go through natural population fluctuations, so as fishery managers all we can do is reduce the harvest on those stocks and give them some time to rebound.

“But we haven’t seen a significant rebound on fish stocks yet.”

The fishery is operating with a three-year strategy and plans to reopen the canal to shrimping in October of 2009.

The department of Fish and Game will then assess the catch rates and look at the size compositions of the shrimp to measure how well the stocks have recovered.

“We wish we had the money to go out and do systematic shrimp trapping of our own to sample the population,” said Chapell.

“But we don’t have a program in place, we don’t have the money to do that.”

“Really it isn’t a very big fishery,” he added.

“A 15,000-pounds-a-year guideline harvest level is pretty small potatoes as far as commercial fishery managers are concerned.”

Biologists aren’t sure exactly why the shrimp are disappearing.

“No one really knows,” said commercial fisheries management biologist Randy Bachman.

“Although, there has been a lot more shrimping in these core areas than there has been historically, not only by commercial fishers but by sport and subsistence fishers as well.”

It could also be a normal population fluctuation, he added.

“Most natural populations exhibit highs and lows and we could very well just be in a period of low abundance,” said Bachman.

“A combination of a lot of different factors might be at play here.”

Locals in the area have noticed an increase in Pacific cod in the LynnCanal.

This could be another factor, as cod are a natural shrimp predator.

Commercial shrimp fishing began in the Lynn Canal in the 1970s, and ran from October 1 into July, with a break in May during the hatch-out period.

Due to a growing interest in the catch, a guideline of 20,000 pounds was created in the late 1980s.

Fisheries monitored the catches and as soon as the guideline was hit, the commercial fishery would shut down.

In 2005, the guideline was dropped to 15,000 pounds because of the decrease in shrimp abundance.

However, only 4,500 pounds of shrimp were taken that season.

Commercial fishers, sports fishers and biologists alike will have to wait until next season to see if the shrimp population has bounced back.