Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 6:19 PM on Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Kodiak's tanner crab fishery rebounds

The Kodiak tanner crab fishery continues its roller coaster ride with this year's Guideline Harvest Level of 1.49 million pounds, more than double the 700,000-pound GHL last season.

The fishery was shut down in 1994 due to low stock abundance, and re-opened in 2001 with a 500,000-pound GHL.

The Board of Fisheries instituted a limited entry program that began in 2003, when the GHL was 510,000 pounds. The 2004 GHL was 795,000 pounds.

The 2005 GHL saw a huge jump to 1.75 million pounds, and then another rise in 2006 to a 2.1-million-pound GHL.

Things took a turn for the worse, and the fishery saw three years of declining stocks, bottoming out at a 400,000 pound GHL in 2008, and then began to rise once again to the current level.

The commercial fishery for Kodiak tanners began in 1967, and peaked 10 years later with a 33-million-pound harvest.

Vessels are limited to 20 pots each, and the season, which is scheduled to open Jan. 15, can be delayed if winds are forecast to be 35 knots or above.

The Alaska King Crab Research, Rehabilitation and Biology (AKCRRAB) Program is slowly making its way toward the goal of enhancing king crab stocks by releasing hatchery-raised juveniles.

The program is a coalition of partners from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, Alaska Sea Grant, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward, and fishing groups and coastal communities in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea.

Although larval culture began at the Kodiak Laboratory after the collapse of red king crab in the mid-1980s, large-scale culture began at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in 2006 and has produced over 100,000 first-stage juvenile during the last 2 years.

Now the program moves into the next stage, determining the best practices for culture of juveniles to a stage appropriate for release, evaluating the best possible habitats for release of juveniles, and understanding recruitment processes such as growth and mortality, in an effort to rebuild stocks to commercially viable levels in Kodiak and the Gulf of Alaska.

AKCRRAB has been conducting studies at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center's Newport lab, and have found that juvenile red king crab prefer complex habitats with invertebrates that attach themselves to rocks such as mussels and barnacles, as well as seaweed. These habitats provide both food and shelter.

Their preference for these habitats increase with the presence of both fish predators such as halibut and cannibalistic older king crab, a behavioral adaptation that gives them a significant survival advantage.

Researchers found that Pacific cod were less effective predators than halibut, but the presence of structurally complex habitat increases the survival of king crab juveniles in both laboratory and field experiments, regardless of the predator type.

They also used remote field video with tethered crabs, which proved critical in identifying the host of fish and invertebrates that were important predators on young king crab, and are expected to be a useful tool in exploring release strategies for hatchery-reared juveniles.

The results of these studies are helping researchers choose release sites for hatchery-reared juvenile crab, but many questions still need to be answered. For example they will still need to determine the optimal size for release, and whether variables such as season or time of day might affect survival of crabs after release.

And one final crab note: The absolute very last king crab of the 2010 season was delivered in Kodiak this week aboard the F/V Kona Kai, skippered by Dave Martin of Homer.

United Fishermen of Alaska, representing 38 Alaska commercial fishing organizations, announced its support of Cora Campbell for Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

UFA highlighted Campbell's wide-ranging experience in the state and federal fisheries management processes. UFA says its members have worked with Campbell during her career as Fisheries Policy Analyst for Governors Parnell and Palin, and the members are keenly aware of the skills she has acquired in the Fish and Game policy andplanning process during this period of time.

"Cora has impressed the UFA board with her presentations and public comments," said UFA President Arni Thomson. "She routinely displays a depth of knowledge of state and federal management processes, the importance of science-base management and the far-reaching effects of fish and game management on Alaska citizens. In addition, although she is well grounded in commercial fisheries, she has extensive experience and knowledge in the federal subsistence management process.

"We feel she is uniquely qualified with this broad perspective, and we support Governor Parnell in providing her the opportunity to lead the State's world-class, science-based management of our fish and game resources," Thomson said.

Cristy Fry has commercial fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.