Nearly all surveys of Alaska’s fish and crab stocks in the Bering Sea have been called off due to constraints and dangers posed by the coronavirus.

In what they called an “unprecedented” move, NOAA Fisheries announced that five surveys will be cancelled this summer. The surveys are done mostly using trawl gear and are the cornerstone of Alaska’s sustainable fisheries management. They provide data on how fish stocks are trending and, ultimately, how much will be allowed for harvest each year.

NOAA said its long time series of data means the loss of one year should have no conservation impacts.

But fishing towns that count on cod worry that no survey means the Gulf fishery could remain closed.

Likewise, Bering Sea crabbers fear a pinch.

  “We’re very disappointed and concerned given the status of many of our crab stocks. “Our bairdi Tanner fishery was closed this past year and our red crab fishery is approaching thresholds of closing (3.8m harvest last season). We rely on having a survey every year.”

Jamie Goen is director of the trade group, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. A new harvest strategy for bairdi has raised hopes for a fishery this season and snow crab appeared to be on a big rebound (34m harvest for the 2019/2020 fishery). But no survey likely translates to more conservative management.

“Last year in the survey we did see a recruitment class coming through the fishery. It did flatten out a bit last year so we were curious to see what this year’s data showed. We won’t  have that so I expect the agency to be more conservative in the harvest level setting this season because of that.”  

Goen credited NOAA’s “crab team” for working closely with the industry and said crabbers already are looking towards next year.             

 “How can we start planning now so that this doesn’t happen again if we’re still under the same restraints with a pandemic?  One of the things we can do in advance is a lot more planning for next season.”

Meanwhile, Goen stressed the times call for working together. 

“We all need to be understanding that the whole world is adjusting to a different situation right now. Our fishing industries in Alaska are suffering and it’s a lot more expensive and stressful just getting our operations out the door. We’ve all got to roll up our sleeves and help each other out and find solutions to make sure we can continue to put food on people’s tables.”

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