Alaska’s Bering Sea crabbers are reeling from the bad news from fishery managers that all major stocks are down substantially, based on the summer survey results.
The Bristol Bay red king crab fishery will be closed for the first time in over 25 years. The harvest last year had dwindled to just 2.6 million pounds.
The bulk of the snow crab stock, which just two years ago appeared to be “very strong” with a projected biomass of over 610 million pounds, seems to have “disappeared or moved elsewhere,” according to a statement by the trade group, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers.
The numbers of mature male snow crab, the only ones that can be retained, showed a 55% decline from 2019. Last season’s snow crab catch was 45 million pounds. That catch is likely to be way down for this season.
The crab group estimates the closure of the red king crab fishery and a reduced snow crab catch could cost harvesters well over a $100 million. The hit will be felt by roughly 70 vessels, over 400 fishermen, along with the processors and fishing communities that rely on the Bering Sea crab revenues.
Crabbers are saying it’s time for bold action, notably by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries.
They are calling on them to conserve crab habitat and spawning grounds as highlighted by scientists over 10 years ago with little resulting action. The crabbers also want reductions in bycatch, primarily by trawlers, and to factor in the numbers of unobserved bycatch that is currently not accounted for in stock assessments. That is likely to be in the millions of pounds of dead crab bycatch, the trade group said.
According to North Pacific Council documents, the majority of crab of all species is taken as bycatch in the yellowfin sole fishery by about 20 Bering Sea trawlers in the so called Amendment 80 fleet, including 7 owned by CDQ groups. All of those boats are based in Seattle.
The Bering Sea crab catches will be announced shortly before the fisheries open on October 15.