Fish Radio
December 3, 2013

Crabbers bank on science to solve mysteries of golden king crab                

Golden king crab from the Aleutian Islands Credit: ADF&G

Golden king crab from the Aleutian Islands
Credit: ADF&G


 This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch –Crabbers bank on science to grow their fishery – more on golden kings after this …

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 Golden king crab from the Aleutian Islands are one of Alaska’s biggest stocks – and one of its biggest mysteries.

 They are such an interesting animal and they live in this rocky environment where they hang on the cliffs and they are difficult to fish… and there is almost nothing known about the Aleutian Islands – it is probably one of the least studied parts of Alaska. 

 John Hilsinger is new Science Advisor for the Aleutian King Crab Research Foundation, formed by crabbers last year to learn more about the far flung fishery. Hilsinger says that’s what attracted him to the group –

 It really was the fact that the crab fishermen were interested in creating the nonprofit foundation and funding the research to work with the department and National Marine Fisheries Service to try to get some information about these animals.   

During his nearly four decades with Fish and Game, Hilsinger was one of the first to push for research/fishing partnerships, starting with the Yukon River Drainage Association 25 years ago.  He retired as director of commercial fisheries in 2010.  As science advisor, he’ll work with the crabbers to expand stock surveys they began last year.  It showed   lots of large golden crab are out there and lots of small recruits.     The golden crabs also are really tough and survive injuries that would kill other crab.

 That is really interesting and somewhat of a mystery. Crab have an open circulatory system meaning when the blood is not contained in vessels – so when you crack that shell the blood leaks out. So it is interesting with golden king crab when you crack that shell, the blood apparently does not leak out and they don’t bleed to death. I don’t think anyone knows why that is yet.   

Another mystery – the Aleutians crab seem unharmed by increasingly corrosive oceans. Hilsinger says that’s likely due to their extreme depths of up to 250 fathoms, or 1,500 feet. That’s five times deeper than waters for red king crab.  (180-300 feet.)

 That’s a real important characteristic for the future with expectations that OA will increase – that will be a potential threat to other crab species that are not so resilient. 12

 The Aleutian Islands golden king crab fishery runs from mid-August through mid-May with a fixed quota of six million pounds.     

Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods – who salutes and says thanks to the men and women fishing across Alaska for their hard work and dedication. ( In Kodiak, I’m Laine Welch.