For the first time since 2013, Kodiak crabbers might be able to drop pots for Tanners come January.

 “ It would be accurate to say that we have the best chance that we’ve had in the last five years.”

Nat Nichols is area shellfish manager at Fish and Game in Kodiak. Crab stocks must reach strict number thresholds before a fishery is allowed. Preliminary data from the summer survey indicate two Kodiak districts might have enough legal sized males – the only crabs that can be retained – to allow for a fishery.  

  “We will be looking very closely at the Southwest and eastside to see if we can get to an exploitation rate that we are comfortable with and also gets us above that minimum 400,000 pound GHL.”

The survey showed slight improvements at Chignik and the South Peninsula, but Nichols says no Tanner fisheries will open there.

It takes Tanner crabs six to seven years to reach a legal, two pound size. Four years ago a huge pulse of up to 200 million Tanners appeared ready to recruit into the fishery. But then it declined much faster than expected.

“That is the year class that is contributing to this year’s potential for a fishery. So we are seeing them at a legal size when we expected, it’s just there’s a lot fewer than we expected. So that will be this year, and if they persist, we’ll see them again next year and after that they will start dying of old age and moving out of the population.”

Nichols says for the next two years Kodiak has a shot at a short-term fishery –

“If we were to have a fishery this year or next after that it looks like we might have a gap for a year or three before we get to the next recruitment pulse that would lead to a fishery. “

At this point, that pulse of crab is an encouraging sign for future fisheries –

“We are seeing a good bit of small crab in the water again this year, not like we saw in 2013, but we did see increases in the smaller size classes.  But they are several years out from being legal.”

The 2013 Tanner crab fishery had a harvest guideline of 660,000 pounds and was worth nearly $2 million for a fleet of 59 small boat fishermen.

Fish and Game will announce the fate of a 2018 fishery on November 1.