Signs are pointing to a Kodiak Tanner crab fishery in January. (Bairdi Tanners are the larger cousins of snow crab.) Managers are still scrubbing the data from the annual survey that’s just wrapped, up but the early numbers look good.
“That looks positive for 2019 because we’ve got this big group of crab that a lot were just sublegal so that is encouraging for 2019 and we might get two years of fishing on this group of crab. That’s what we were communicating last year.”
Nat Nichols is area shellfish manager at Fish and Game in Kodiak.
Last January saw the first Tanner season after a four year closure, thanks to remnants from a 2013 pulse of crab that grew into the fishery.
“That big pulse in 2013 was the largest estimate in the survey time series. At Kodiak we estimated 200 million crab in the water in 2013. Again, those were very small, the size of a nickel. They don’t survive well because everything likes to eat a small Tanner crab, so you don’t expect them to turn into 200 million legal crab. We see about 90 percent of them drop out of the population before they reach legal size. But even 10 percent still turns into a lot of crab.”
The tiny crabs seen in the surveys are one to two years old and they grow another five years before they can be legally taken.
Nichols says Tanner numbers also are looking up at Chignik and the South Peninsula, but for now those regions are likely to remain closed.
“We see recruitment trends around Kodiak and the south side of the South Peninsula tracking well with each other. So it looks like they are experiencing the same conditions. They all seem to be lagged about a year, Chignik is about a year behind Kodiak and South pen seems to be a year behind Chignik.”
Biologists talk about “episodic recruitment” of Tanner crab when massive spikes come all at once, roughly on a five to seven year time line. Nichols says the biggest one ever may be in the lineup.
“We don’t really understand what’s driving that but we’re sort of along for the ride, is how we put it. That being said, 2013 was the last one so we’ve been holding our breath to see if this trend is going to continue. This year in the 2018 survey, we saw the next recruitment pulse and it’s looking to be bigger than 2013. Some of the early estimates are that it may be 50 percent bigger than the 2013 estimates.”
Nichols says that cohort would enter a fishery in 2023 but cautions it could tank unexpectedly like the 2013 crab did.
“That’s encouraging but we try not to get too excited because we’ve seen these recruitment pulses drop off between the first year we see them and five years later when they become legal. Like I said, we tend to lose 90 percent of them but it’s good to see we’re still producing big cohorts of crab.”
Last season’s Tanner fishery at Kodiak was at the minimum threshold of 400,000 pounds. The opener lasted about one week. Nichols says an announcement about a 2019 Tanner crab fishery will be made on November 1.