Snow and red king crab quotas set
Two major Bering Sea crab quotas were cut back again this year, according to an Oct. 3 announcement from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. There will, however, be a small Tanner crab season, thanks to new rules allowing fishing when fewer female crustaceans are present.
The low quotas were described as "disappointing" by a fishermen's advocate. "It's going to be a tough year," said Jake Jaocobsen, executive director of the Intercooperative Exchange, representing the majority of the crab fleet.
The Bristol Bay red king crab quota was set at 6.6 million pounds, a 22-percent decline from last year when it was about 8.5 million. The fishery opens Sunday with about 65 vessels expected, the same fleet size as last year.
The Bering Sea opilio snow crab fishery was cut by 12 percent, with a quota of 18.9 million pounds, down from 21.6 million in the previous season. While the official opening date is also Oct. 15, the fishery doesn't usually start in a big way until January, although lately some boats have started as early as November.
The snow crab fishery has been in a continuing state of decline for the past seven years, since 2007, said shellfish biologist Miranda Westphal, of ADF&G in Unalaska. Two years ago, during the 2015-16 season, it was 40.6 million pounds.
In one mildly bright piece of news, there is a quota this year for Bering Sea Tanner crab, but only in the western district, at 2.5 million pounds. Last year the entire fishery was closed, and would have been again this year, if not for policy changes made at the May meeting of the Alaska Board of Fisheries, according to Westphal.
The new policy lowers the female threshold limit. Under the previous harvest strategy, both districts would have remained closed this year, she said. The Alaskan Bering Sea Crabbers, with the support of the local governments of St. Paul and Unalaska, lobbied for the new policy giving biologists more flexibility in quota setting.
At least there is a Tanner season, although the small quota is "next to nothing," said Jacobsen.
Jacobsen questioned the low quotas in the various fisheries, saying "they don't add up to us." He complained of a "disconnect" between the quotas, and what fishermen saw on the crab grounds last season. The first few weeks of fishing may prove if the quotas were too low or not, he said.
The Pribilof District red and blue king crab fisheries are closed again this year. "The 2017 area-swept estimates for Pribilof District blue king crab indicate continued low abundance, remaining well below the minimum stock size threshold," according to Fish and Game. For similar conservation reasons, the Saint Matthew Island Section blue king crab fishery is also closed again to commercial fishing.
The Aleutian Islands golden king crab quotas are unchanged, at 3.31 million pounds in the east, and 2.235 million in the western district.
In all the crab fisheries, only the males can be harvested. And the males must be delivered alive to processing plants, or are unfit for human consumption. Yet sometimes the legal-sized males die while being handled by fishermen, and that's something biologists complained about in a recent meeting with fishermen. In last year's Bristol Bay red king crab season, 152,000 pounds were discarded, for an estimated loss of $1.5 million, based on a price of $10 per pound for the kings weighing an average of 6.75 pounds each, according to ADF&G.