Dungeness crab in Southeast AK                                                                Credit: Chinook Shores Lodge       

It gets overshadowed by all the summer salmon hoopla, but Dungeness crab in Southeast Alaska is one that regions busiest and most lucrative fisheries.

It’s especially true this year where the summer and fall seasons are expected to produce nearly seven million pounds, the largest catch ever. Last year’s total take was four million pounds.

Fish and Game reports show that 178 crabbers are on the grounds and have pulled up 2.3 million pounds of Dungies so far. At a price of $3.01 per pound and crab weights topping two pounds, the fishery already is valued at nearly $7 million at the Southeast docks.

The fishery will run through mid-August and then reopen again for two months starting October 1.

Last year Dungeness crab brought in over $12 million to the region.

The only other Dungeness crab fishery in Alaska is around Kodiak and to a lesser degree at Chignik and the Alaska Peninsula. It’s much smaller than Southeast and starting May 1, about six boats regularly drop pots for the crab that shows ups and downs in numbers.

“We kind of see it going through cycles on its own that we don’t fully understand what’s driving them. We’ll see harvests get low for a number of years in the 100,000 pound range and then we’ll see it pick back up. We’ve seen harvests over a million pounds.”

Nat Nichols is area manager at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game in Kodiak.

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An increased harvest last year of 640,000 pounds has boosted interest to nine boats this season.

“When the Dungeness fishing isn’t particularly strong we see fewer vessels. When word gets out that we’re having a better season and there’s more crab in the water, more people who happen to have gear stored in their yard somewhere will be pulled into the fishery. So that drives the total harvest. So effort sort of follows abundance.”

Nichols expects the Kodiak catch will be higher this year. 

“Given that July and august are typically the peak months I don’t think it’s unreasonable that we may have a bigger season than last year.”

The top Dungeness crab harvests in the nation come out of Oregon with average landings of 16 million pounds. The fishery there can be worth up to $74 million to Oregon fishermen.