Record high prices expected for red king crab fleet
The Bristol Bay red king crab season is moving at a fast pace, with most of the quota already harvested. While state regulators slashed quotas, a crab industry official says fishermen are seeing plenty of all species, and are expecting record high prices.
On Tuesday, the fleet had landed 7.5 million pounds, for 89 percent of the red king crab quota, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Unalaska. Only 18 boats were still registered, down from the peak of 62 vessels. The season opened on Oct. 15.
Fishermen were catching the crab faster, with an average per-pot haul of 37.4 crustaceans, up from last year's cpue of 32. CPUE is catch per unit of effort, or the number of crab in each heavy metal pot left soaking and baited on the ocean floor, and then hauled up on deck.
While the red king crab prices are expected at record highs, that's the one bright spot for the major crab fisheries in the Bering Sea. Tanner crab has been canceled because of conservation concerns. The snow crab quota was nearly cut in half, compared to last year.
The combined quotas dropped from about 70 million pounds last year, to about 30 million. Tanner went from 19 million pounds to zero. Snow crab went from 40.6 million to 21.5 million pounds.
Fishermen, though, are reporting "the most crab they've seen in years," said Jake Jacobsen, executive director of the Intercooperative Exchange, representing crab boats. "There seems to be a disconnect between the summer survey and what's actually on the grounds."
And some boats had cpues way above average, filling pots with 60 to 70 crab, leaving fishermen "scratching their heads" and wondering why they weren't given bigger quotas, Jacobsen said. And the future should be good too, as fishermen saw abundant female and undersize crab, he said.
Prices won't be settled until later in the year, or even January, but they should be very good, said Jacobsen, attributing the anticipated increase to the opening up of markets in China, and for all crab species.
"We are expecting record prices," Jacobsen said.
Now, more fishermen than ever are expected to try to fill their pots with another species, Pacific cod, according to Krista Milani, a fisheries biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, in Unalaska. While she'll know more next week, she reports a "very unusual" amount of fishing boats planning to go directly into Pacific cod from red king crab. The price of Pacific cod is typically substantially less than crab.
Jim Paulin can be reached at email@example.com