The bairdi tanner crab season in Kodiak and along the Alaska Peninsula continues its quota yo-yo this year with quotas either down or areas closed entirely when the season begins Jan. 15.
On Kodiak Island, only two areas out of eight are open, the east side and southeast sections, for a total of 660,000 pounds, down from 950,000 pounds in 2012 and 1.47 million pounds in 2011.
On the southern Alaska Peninsula, the Chignik district is closed completely, after seeing a bump in the 2012 quota, set at 700,000 pounds, up from 600,000 pounds in 2011.
Further west, in the South Peninsula district, only the eastern district will be open, with a quota of 230,000 pounds, a dramatic drop from previous years, with both the eastern and western district fishing a combined quota of 1.62 million pounds in 2012 and 2.3 million pounds in 2011.
Boats only can run gear from 8 a.m. to 5:59 p.m. The season opening for any area can be delayed if winds are forecast at 35 knots or above.
The Kodiak districts have a pot limit of 20 pots per vessel, and the South Peninsula districts have a 30 pot limit per vessel.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game area management biologist Mark Stichert said that the ups and downs of the bairdi quota has to do with a year class that came up through the ranks and has reached the end of its life cycle.
“Beginning in 2005 and 2006 we noticed during our trawl survey an abundance of small crab. Through the years those guys have gotten bigger and recruited into the fishery all at the same time, so we saw the (guideline harvest level) go up considerably during 2010, ’11 and ’12. Those crab are now nearing the end of their life expectancy, so they begin to die off, which is why we’re beginning to see an adjustment back down in our GHL.”
Stichert said that the one district on Kodiak Island that was open last year but not this year, the southwest district, came close to meeting the minimum threshold for a fishery, but not quite, which may mean there could be a fishery there next year.
He said the areas that are open are the breeding grounds for the fishery.
“Those areas on the east side, and the southeast sections, tend to be the historical center of the biomass,” he said, “so we always have some expectation of crab there, and historically those two sections have provided the most abundant harvest opportunity.”
That bounty provided the spill-over that has allowed a limited fishery in other districts, Stichert said.
“Situations like we saw a couple of years ago, with a fairly sizable increase in the abundance of crab, that allows some of those more marginal areas that historically don’t support those large crab populations to open up, just as a function of having more crab out there.”
The year class that provided the crab for a couple of good years on Kodiak Island also did so along the Alaska Peninsula, past Chignik to Sand Point and King Cove areas.
“It was a very similar situation where we had a strong cohort of crab that first became apparent in 2005, 2006, and then by 2011 those had all matured into legal size for the fishery, and so GHLs rose accordingly,” Stichert said.
He added that tanner crab do not remain in the exploitable biomass as long as king crab.
“A (male) tanner crab, unlike a king crab, which will molt in perpetuity, ... hits legal size and basically stops molting,” he said.
“So their shelf life really drops off after their molt. You see them around for another two, three, four years, and then they start dying of natural mortality, so that’s why we’re seeing this pulse of crab that shot up, and then we’re seeing them drop off on a fairly equivalent rate.”
Stichert said the hope is that the large population of crab that provided the larger quotas of the past couple of years were able to spawn at comparable rates and will provide a strong year class in the future.
Kodiak, Chignik and the Alaska Peninsula all have a long history of tanner crab fisheries, beginning in 1967 and 1968, and peaking in the late 1970s. Kodiak’s best harvest was 33 million pounds, followed by Chignik with 11 million pounds, and the Alaska Peninsula with a high of 9 million pounds.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has hired Jay Sterne as her fisheries and arctic adviser, replacing Stephanie Moreland, who went to work for Gov. Sean Parnell in August.
In a press statement, Murkowski says that Sterne “is a twenty-year veteran of fisheries and arctic policy discussions, and brings intellectual heft to a key position for a state where the fishing industry and emerging arctic possibilities represent a growing economic engine.”
Sterne has described himself as a friend and colleague of Murkowski’s former employee, Arne Fuglvog, who served in the same position and was on a very short list of people being considered for the top job at National Marine Fisheries Service until it came to light that he had falsified logbooks aboard his fishing boat for at least five years, claiming to have caught black cod in one regulatory district that had actually been caught in another.
Fuglvog paid a total of $150,000 in fines and served five months in federal prison.
Sterne wrote a letter of support for Fuglvog that was read at his sentencing hearing.
Cristy Fry has commercial fished in Homer since 1978. She also designs and builds gear for the industry. She currently longlines for halibut and gillnets salmon in upper Cook Inlet aboard the F/V Realist. She can be reached at email@example.com.