This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch – The Bering Sea Tanner crab fishery gets tanked for this year. More after this –
It was bad news for Bering Sea crabbers when the last hope for a bairdi Tanner fishery was dashed last week. The Board of Fisheries in a split vote decided against opening the fishery which produced 20 million pounds last year. Crab harvests are based on results of summer surveys and for Tanners, the numbers are driven by the abundance of female crab. Those numbers were not sufficient enough to open even a reduced fishery.
“There’s something of a disconnect between all the people looking at it, the scientists and fishermen. And we thought there were enough crab to warrant a small harvest of four million pounds, which would be about four percent of the mature male biomass. Others thought a more precautionary approach was warranted. That’s where we’re at – we are certainly disappointed but we will continue to work with Fish and Game and NOAA and crab plan team and continue looking and improving the way we look at the stock.”
Tyson Fick is spokesman for the trade group Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. Based on their pot pulls, the crabbers believe there are lots of Tanners out there that were missed by the annual survey.
“We certainly all agree there are a lot of male bairdi out there but the harvest strategy hinges on a population of mature females. You don’t necessarily see those in the fishery because they escape through escape rings, they fall through the mesh. They are substantially smaller than the males targeted in the fishery. So we have to rely on other methods of finding out what the female undersized biomass is.”
It adds up to about a $50 million loss to the crab fleet. An even bigger hit stems from the Tanner crab drop out in the market place. Bairdi Tanners are the larger cousin of snow crab by a pound or more and the crabbers and ASMI worked hard to build a Tanner brand when the fishery was reopened just three years ago.
“Red Lobster and Joe’s Crab Shack and Publix Markets and all these domestic markets really appreciated what they are getting. It’s going to be an uphill road when we come back into the market again. “
Crab populations are highly cyclical and it’s tough to balance an appropriate harvest with protecting the resource and providing economic opportunity. Meanwhile, crabbers targeting snow crab now report hauling up lots of Tanners that must be tossed back. Fick says stakeholders are now planning a framework for a long term harvest strategy. He’s hopeful the Tanner crab customers will still be there when the fishery resumes.
“We hope our consumers who were so excited with bairdi crab in the market will be with us when it is back on the market and will understand that sometimes this is what sustainable fisheries management is about when products come and go in the market it fluctuates with the biomass.”