Golden king crab from the Aleutian Islands             Credit: ADF&G

Fishermen and state managers are testing the waters for another crab fishery at Prince William Sound.

Now through the end of November, they will drop pots for golden king crab. That fishery has been closed since 1989 and the last survey on the stock was in 2006. But stakeholders say they are seeing signs of increased abundance.

 “We believe that there is some golden king crab out there and our stakeholders proposed a few things at the last Board of Fish.  And through that discussion, it was agreed that for this year, we would go forward with a test fishery to try to gain more information. And then once that test fishery is complete, the department will go through those results, we will analyze the data, we will have observers on board, we will have port samplers looking at the catches that comes in. And so we will be gaining a lot of information within a low risk scenario.”

Wyatt Rhea-Fournier is the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game’s research project leader for groundfish and shellfish at lower Cook Inlet, the North Gulf Coast district, and Prince William Sound.

At a time of tight budgets, a test fishery allows the crab that’s caught to be sold to a local processor to fund the research project.

In this case, a harvest limited to 15,000 pounds will go to 60 Degrees North in Cordova which also is subcontracting with boats to handle the harvest. Golden king crab are the deepest dwellers of them all, living at depths of 900 meters, or nearly 3,000 feet.

Rhea-Fournier says the results of the test fishery will be presented to the Fish Board when it takes up state shellfish issues sometime next year.

 “We’ve been told the very earliest would be March and so by then, my staff and I will be able to have summarized that fishery and looked at the QE and size, frequency and discards and our male/female proportions and kind of spatial distribution. So we should be able to have that ready for the Board of Fish.”

Golden king crab would be the second emerging crab fishery for Prince William Sound, following a March Tanner crab opener for three years running where catches have topped 100,000 pounds. That operates on a special Commissioner’s Permit and this year it also used a 30,000 pound test fishery to get data on Tanners in untapped reaches of the Sound.

Meanwhile, Rhea-Fournier is eager to begin crunching the data for golden king crab when it starts to come in.

 “And  we just encourage everyone to be patient as we analyze this king crab data and just know that  we’re always looking for an opportunity to provide a sustainable fishery.”

The next test fishery for Prince William Sound could be sea cucumbers.