It’s official – Kodiak will get an opener for Tanner crab in mid-January in two fishing districts with an increased catch to 615,000 pounds. It’s the second consecutive opener after being closed for six years.
“So last year we were at 400,000 pounds which was the regulatory minimum. We can’t have a fishery less than 400,000 pounds. This year the survey estimates of those mature and legal crab increased from last year so we were able to provide some extra opportunity.”
Nat Nichols is area shellfish manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak.
At Chignik, the trawl survey showed numbers of tiny Tanner crab nearly doubled to 55 million. The South Peninsula also showed increases of juvenile crab but neither region meets thresholds for an opener in January.
Since 2001, Tanner crab recruitment has been cyclical, Nichols says, with big pulses showing up every five to seven years. The last one, which the fleet has been fishing on for two years, was in 2013.
In good news for the future, the 2018 survey showed the most small crab ever.
“We saw small crab everywhere, particularly on the east side, and in numbers that are more than we’d seen in any of the previous three recruitment events. The 2013 recruitment was the largest in our time series (since the late 1970’s) at 201 million crab and this year the estimate for Kodiak is 272 million crab. So we broke the old record by 35 percent more than the last recruitment we saw. There are a lot of little crab in the water this year”.
Nichols says now it’s a waiting game to see how many Tanners survive to legal size.
“When we first start seeing them in the survey at one to two years old we need to give them another four-ish years to get to a legal size and a lot can happen in those years. What is certainly going to happen is that the majority of them will drop out of the population before they get to legal size. That is not unusual. The guessing game now is what portion is going to get to legal size, and with an estimate that big it doesn’t take too many of them to turn into a fishing opportunity. That’s what we will be following for the next couple of years.”
Last January 55 crabbers dropped pots for Kodiak Tanners and that number is likely to increase in a fast-paced fishery that should last about one week
. At an average weight of 2.2 pounds, Nichols says the 615,000 pound catch will yield about 280,000 crabs.
The Kodiak Tanner fishery opens January 15.