Credit: Whitney Potter, Shoreline Area News

Crabbers throughout the Gulf of Alaska are enjoying some great hauls, most recently for Tanners at Southeast Alaska.

The 11 day February fishery produced 1.26 million pounds, the fourth largest catch in the past 15 seasons for nearly 70 permit holders.  At an average price of $3.72 per pound, the fishery was valued at $4.2 million at the docks, the highest since 1999.

For golden king crab, which also opened in February, four out of seven fishing districts remain open. The harvest limit is 76,500 pounds and crabbers were fetching $11.33 per pound. Lots are said to be selling the crab off the dock.

Southeast crabbers last year also had their second best fishery for Dungeness.

Catches for the combined summer and fall crab fisheries totaled nearly 6.7 million pounds, more than double the 10 year average , and just shy of the record 7.3 million pounds taken in 2002.

The price to fishermen averaged $1.72, down by more than a dollar from last season, making the dockside value over $11.5 million for the region.

Kodiak is gearing up for a Dungeness crab fishery that begins on May 1. Last season produced the biggest catch in 30 years at just under 3 million pounds for a fleet of 29 boats. Prices for the two pound crab dropped to $1.85, down from more than $3 in previous seasons.

The higher catches were due in part to “more horsepower on the grounds” as opposed to a higher abundance of crab, said Nat Nichols, area manager for the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game at Kodiak. The stocks are very cyclical and the current dungie cohort could be the tail end of a peak. This summer will tell the tale, he said,

“We’ve got 50 to 60 years of history to look at and in the past these peaks and harvest have lasted three years, something like that, and then we kind of go down until we get another big group of crab coming through. So, this could be that we’re kind of coming to the end of this peak.”  

After sitting out a Tanner fishery this year, crabbers at Kodiak, Chignik and the Alaska Peninsula have fingers crossed for an opener in 2022.

Nichols says surveys are showing the largest cohort of Tanner crabs ever seen poised to grow into the fishery throughout the westward region.

“We saw that from Kodiak all the way out through False Pass, essentially. And that’s the same thing with this 2018 group. There’s been a good recruitment signal all the way out. And they seem to be growing well.”

Tanners at the South Peninsula near Sand Point and King Cove usually lag about one year behind, Nichols said. And he agreed that fewer cod fish throughout the westward region could account for the steady uptick in Tanner crabs.

“I don’t think it can hurt. There’s just a lot fewer mouths out there trying to eat dinner grab right now.