Southeast Alaska’s biggest crab fishery has taken a dive this year with shortened fisheries for the summer and now, for the fall.

The summer fishery, which produces nearly three-quarters of the annual catch, landed just 1.3 million pounds of Dungies, the lowest in more than 30 years.

Managers cut the fishery short by three weeks in late July when crab catches were not meeting set thresholds. It’s only the second early closure in 15 years.

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Now, state managers have clipped the fall Dungeness season by a month. It will open as usual on October 1 but will close on the 31st instead of running through the month of November.

A late molting is a likely cause of the lower catch numbers, says biologist Kelli Wood at Fish and Game in Petersburg.

Large numbers of the crabs pulled up in the summer pots were soft shelled, meaning newly molted, and hid out from the fishery.

“A lot of that could be due to the fact that the crabs were just ‘not on the bite.’  2 After they molt they bury in the mud and don’t come out and they are not hungry. They just sit there. So if it was a later molt, they probably would be buried from the fishery.”

Biologists believe Dungeness crab molt once or twice a year but they don’t know for sure. No surveys are done on the Southeast Dungeness stocks and managers rely on information from commercial fisheries to track the crab.

“There’s a lack of life history data in Southeast Alaska.”  

Wood says managers can only speculate about the causes for this year’s late molts –

“It could have been due to colder water, later phytoplankton blooms, you know, there’s a lot that goes into these molts. Temperature, salinity, nutrition, it’s really hard to say.”

In 2015, Southeast crabbers landed more than five million pounds of Dungeness and averaged $2.95 a pound. The crab fishery was worth $15 million to the region.

Thanks to the assist from KFSK in Petersburg.