Bristol Bay red king crab fishery off to slow start, but not unexpected

The Bristol Bay Times is reporting that the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery is off to a slow start compared to last year, according to Miranda Westphal, shellfish biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Unalaska. The season opened Oct. 15 and as of Monday, just over a week into the fishery, only 1.5 million pounds had been landed. In the same time period last year, the boats hauled in 6 million pounds.

The fishery’s performance, though, is not unexpected and is in line with what biologists learned during pre-season surveys. Westphal said 52 boats were fishing on Monday, and a total of 60 had registered. Part of the reason for the slow pace, she said, is that the king crab have moved eastward and into a smaller area of concentration, farther into Bristol Bay.

The average number of crab per pot was 22, while the average number for the entire past season was 38, according to Fish and Game.

The Bristol Bay red king crab quota is 6.6 million pounds, a 22-percent decline from last year.

On one upbeat note, 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 for bairdi Tanner crab.

At least there is a Tanner season, even with a small quota which is “better than nothing,” said Tyson Fick, executive director of ABSC.

The other big Bering Sea crab fishery, opilio snow crab, likewise, took a big hit when quotas were announced earlier this month, with a 12 percent cut. The quota is 18.9 million pounds, down from 21.6 million last season.

The snow crab fishery has been in a continuing state of decline for the past seven years, since 2007, said Westphal. Two years ago, during the 2015-16 season, the catch was 40.6 million pounds.

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.

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