As with halibut and black cod, Bering Sea crab fisheries also operate under a system that allots shares of the catch to fishermen. For crab, the pool of shares is split each year among roughly 400 “owning entities.”
“Prices have gone up on a per pound basis but if you look at the total allowable catch, it’s been cut significantly over the past few years.”
Jeff Osborn at Dock Street brokers in Seattle is the go to guy for crab shares. Catch quotas for Bristol Bay red king crab are listed at $55 per pound; snow crab at $16 to $28, and Tanners at $8 to $13 per pound. Sales, he says, have been slow of late.
“ Lately it’s been much more limited. Subject to the same influences that black cod and halibut are. If you’ve got guys that might be interested in selling but you’re looking at a catch that’s been cut by 50 to 70 percent over t past few years, or reduced to nothing. They’re not too keen on selling when everything looks down in spite of the higher prices.”
Uncertainty over new rules coming for some crab quota holders also has stalled the market. Crew or skippers who own shares but do not have “active participation” in the crab fishery (or another Alaska fishery) by June 30, 2019, their quota is revoked.
The new rule is intended to provide more purchase opportunities for crew who lost jobs when the crab fleet shrank significantly under the catch share program.
“In the past you had to fulfill certain requirements to purchase quota, but once purchased did not need to stay active in the fishery. That is changing. In order to not only receive annual IFQs, but also in order to continue to own the quota share you have to have recent participation either in the crab fishery or another state of Alaska fishery.
There are a lot of guys who have participated in the fishery all their lives and are now retired. They are being forced to either basically get back in the fishery, even on a minimal basis. So they are going to have to sell their quota or lose it. “
Another change crabbers are concerned about, Osborn says, is climate change. Studies show crab can be especially sensitive to a warming and more acidic ocean.
“People are worried about it but they don’t know what to do about it. This is their business, it’s what they do and know. They are paying attention, but no one really knows what the impact will be. “