Bering Sea crabbers saw hopeful signs during a good fishery along with strong prices. The season opens in mid-October for red king crab, Tanners and opilio, or snow crab.

The Bristol Bay red king crab fishery wraps up before December so it can make it to year end markets in Japan.

“For king crab the reports on the grounds were very positive. I got a lot of reports from people saying they saw a lot of recruitment around, a lot of females and small crab, but some boats reported they didn’t see any. So it depended on where you were.  But I did get quite a few reports for red crab on the grounds that again, didn’t show up in the survey in the summer. The catch seemed to be pretty fast and the fishing was good, it wasn’t scratchy at all for most of the boats.”

Jake Jacobsen is director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange which represents the majority of Bering Sea crabbers.

For red king crab, a reduced catch of 4.3 million pounds fetched $10.33 per pound, up from $9.20 last season.

Fishing for Tanners and snow crab gets underway in earnest after the first of each year and lasts into the spring.

Crabbers saw good numbers of Tanners which had a harvest limit of 2.4 million pounds. Tanner crab paid out at $4.14 a pound last season but Jacobsen says price negotiations are still ongoing for both Tanners and snow crab.

“We’re still working on those prices. We should be close to record prices for opilio.”

The record opilio price was $4.98 a pound set in 2012. Last year’s opie price was $4.04 per pound.

Snow crab is a bright spot for the Bering Sea fleet. A catch of 27.5 million pounds was a 47 percent increase after the annual survey showed a 60 percent boost in market sized males and nearly the same for females. Jacobsen says crabbers saw good signs from the fishing grounds.

“There is quite a large biomass that is coming up and this is the front end of it. So there was quite a bit of new shell, smaller crab.”

Sources say the snow crab catch could double again for next season, but Jacobsen says it’s best to wait and see.

“I’ve been in the business too long to get excited about that kind of news because I’ve heard it before. We’ll see what happens. It all depends on the summer survey and we’ve been trying to make some improvements in the stock assessment model. But it looks pretty positive.”

There’s been some tension between crabbers and managers in recent years over big differences seen in the fishery and in the summer survey. The fleet continues to pull up a lot more crab in their pots than managers see in the summer trawl survey. Jake Jacobsen –

 “Apparently, they go on vacation somewhere else in the summertime because they haven’t been showing up in the survey recently. (Laughter)”