Bering Sea crabbers got some good news in advance of the season opener in mid-October.
“We’ve been told that we will have a Bering Sea red king crab season. We don’t know what the TAC will be yet but we understand that it will be reduced from last year but we will have a season. We really appreciate the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game giving us a heads up on that.”
Jake Jacobsen is director of the Inter-cooperative Exchange which represents more than 75 percent of the crab fleet of about 85 boats.
The 2018 catch limit for Bristol Bay red king crab was just 4.3 million pounds and this season is likely to be lower. But, crabbers can expect an eager market and strong prices.
“Our average price for king crab last year was $10.53, near record. We’re expecting higher prices this year based on prices and world markets.”
The record price for Alaska red king crab was $10.84 a pound in 2011.
No word yet on the snow crab, or opilio catch numbers, although they should increase from this year’s take of 27.5 million pounds, a 47 percent increase from last year.
That was due to surveys that showed a 60 percent boost in market sized male crabs and nearly the same for females.
Jacobsen says snow crab prices for the 2019 winter fishery are still being finalized but they should be near last year’s average of $4.04 a pound.
“It should be somewhere around $3.95-$4.00 average price.”
There’s a shortage of snow crab everywhere, Jacobsen says, and that could prompt earlier fishing interest.
“For the upcoming season we’ll start fishing late December, early January. There might be some fishing going on before that depending on what the crab looks like and what processors want to do, but there might be some opilio deliveries in December. But the bulk of the fishery will start prosecuting in January.”
Crabbers also are keeping their fingers crossed for an opener for bairdi Tanners, snow crab’s bigger cousin.
Just 2.4 million pounds were allowed for harvest last season, although crabbers say they see a lot more Tanners than what’s showing up in annual trawl surveys.
“It’s really hard to guess from one year to the next on the surveys. It might show something one year and you can’t find them the next.”
Jacobsen says buyers like Red Lobster are differentiating the larger bairdi Tanners on their menus and a closure would crimp those markets.
“We’re really hopeful we can get a bairdi season this year so we can maintain that differentiation in the marketplace. It seems like we have to rebuild it every time we miss a year or two on a bairdi season.”
State and federal managers will reveal findings of the summer trawl surveys during the week of September 16 in Seattle and finalize the catch quotas in early October. Jacobsen says the crabbers will be scrambling before they head out.
“Yea, we have to scramble at the end to get all the things done that need to go one before the season but hopefully we’ll get some good news on the quotas.”
The Bering Sea crab fisheries open October 15.