It might be midsummer but boats already are signing up for Bering Sea crab fisheries that begin October 1. Meanwhile, many crabbers are still awaiting word on what their pay outs are for last season.

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Prior to the shift from “come one, come all” to a catch share system in 2005 prices were set before boats headed out. But that’s no longer the case.

“Since then, the price is based on the historical division of revenues and there is a formula that is applied to sales.  So we have to wait until the sales are done, or a significant portion of the sales are completed, in order to know what the final price is.  It takes a long time depending on the market year for the sales to be completed to the point where we know or can predict what the final wholesale prices will be and then we can apply the formula to it.”

Jake Jacobsen is director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange which negotiates prices for most of the crab fleet.

For snow crab and bairdi Tanners, which typically are hauled up after the start of each year, prices were just settled and won’t be made public for another week are so.

“But it was a good price. Most of the opilio and bairdi prices were over $4 so that’s very good.”  

The snow crab price to fishermen averaged $4.07 in 2017, according to Alaska processor data. Bairdi Tanners fetched $3.33.

For the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery, which wraps up before the year’s end, Jacobsen said last year’s price averaged $9.20 a pound last year, down from the record $10.18 in 2016.

All signs point to a strong market this year –

“We expect the king crab to be very high this year. It’s looking good, all the signs are positive – there is quite a bit of demand for king crab throughout the world and it’s in short supply. So if we get a quota this year, the prices should be pretty good overall, maybe even approaching last year’s prices.” 

Right now, crabbers are “on pins and needles” as they await results from the summer crab surveys in the Bering Sea. The stocks have been on a steady decline and uncertainty surrounds the latest outcomes.

“Can’t tell you anything other than based on last year’s surveys it looks like we might have another decline in snow crab and not sure about red king crab; it was kind of on the margin last year. And bairdi we never know so it just depends on what comes up on the survey.”