High winds and overall snotty weather delayed Kodiak’s Tanner crab fishery by a day and boats dropped pots in two districts on Wednesday, January 16th.

“We had to wait 24 hours. Most of them headed out Tuesday. We had one or two of them give us a call and say that they had made it around Chiniak and it wasn’t as bad as they were anticipating.”  

Natura Richardson is assistant area shellfish manager at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game in Kodiak. The bad weather, she says, didn’t dampen enthusiasm.

“We have 83 boats participating. It’s a bit higher than last year.”

Fifty five crabbers took part in last year’s fishery, the first Kodiak Tanner opener after a four year closure.

This year’s slightly increased catch quota of 615,000 pounds is also encouraging.  At an average weight of 2.2 pounds, that will yield about 280,000 crabs.

Richardson says the fishery will go fast.

 “We can do projections all day long but I think right now anywhere from as quick as maybe a couple days but it’s looking like four or five, even six days, something like that.”

Just like the crabbers who were excited to head out for the winter fishery, Richardson says it’s also upbeat at the Fish and Game office.

“Oh yea, there’s a lot of activity with all the registrations and figuring out who’s going where. There’s a lot of excitement in the office. It’s fun.”  

Reports of prices starting at $4.65 a pound also are exciting.  That compares to $4.50 last year.

Only mature, male crabs can be retained for sale in any of Alaska’s crab fisheries. The Kodiak fleet will be pulling up Tanners primarily from a big pulse that grew into the fishery in 2013 but is dwindling.

That causes uncertainty for the immediate future, but the long-term outlook is really good. Surveys in 2018 showed the largest recruitment of Kodiak Tanners ever seen.

“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.”  

Nat Nichols is area shellfish manager. Now, he says, it’s a waiting game.

 “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.”  

The 2018 surveys also showed good numbers of small Tanner crabs at the Chignik and Alaska Peninsula districts.