Southeast Alaska is the state’s biggest producer of America’s number one seafood favorite: shrimp.

Four varieties of shrimp are taken at various times throughout the year by those with permits, with recent catches topping a million and a half pounds, worth nearly $3 million at the docks.

“We have 19 different areas around Southeast and each has its own appropriate harvest level for sustainability.”

Dave Harris is area manager with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Juneau.

In fact, shrimp trawling is Southeast’s longest ongoing fishery since 1915.

Beam trawlers target tiny northern, or pink, shrimp and larger sidestripes, mostly near Petersburg and Wrangell. Most of the pinks are frozen into blocks and processed elsewhere; the sidestripes, fetch over a dollar a pound from local processors and lots get sold on the docks for much more.

Fewer than 10 boats are in the trawl fishery of late. But Harris says the better known and more lucrative pot fishery for big spot shrimp and accompanying coon stripes is growing each year.

“That’s been increasing – in 2016, 116 fished, the next year 157 so there is an increased interest in that currently.”

Fishermen have several sales options. Spot shrimp prices can pay $5-$7 a pound from processors; $10 at the docks and boats that are rigged to freeze onboard get even more.

“The guys that are catching and hand packing and freezing whole shrimp onboard their boats. This is primarily for the Japanese sushi market. It’s quite attractive in snazzy kilo boxes – up to 70 percent of the fleet in some years. It’s brokered and sold to Japan.  They can get $10 to $12 for the whole product, which is about twice the weight of the tailed product.”

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Shrimp are a bit unique in that they are protandric hermaphrodites, meaning they start out as males and switch to females after reproducing for a year or two.

Harris says the sex switch can make it tricky to manage.

 “As part of the overall population dynamics, it doesn’t really matter when you harvest that shrimp – you’re taking away their reproductive potential.   A young male, you are just taking one more female out. You’re taking them a couple of years before they convert over to female for the rest of their life. That’s a key part of the management which makes it makes it so difficult because it is very easy to over-shrimp fish if you’re not careful.  

It also has been difficult to gauge impacts from personal shrimp users.

To learn more, in 2018 the state Board of Fisheries ruled that personal use fishery permits would be issued for first time.

 “We are just starting to collect data on that to find out how big the impact on the personal use fishery is. We have some information from specific areas that it can be quite significant, equal to or more that the commercial harvest in some cases.”