Kodiak’s Tanner crab fishery opens on January 15, albeit a small one.

The mid-January fishery will have a combined 400,000 pounds catch limit in two areas, the minimum to open a fishery. Crabbers will tap on the tail end of a big Tanner year class from 2013. 

“The east side’s going to have a 300,000 pound GHL and the southeast is going to have 100,000 pounds. And particularly on the east side, this definitely is fishing on the same crab that they’ve been fishing for the last two seasons. We first saw this big cohort from 2013 in the survey, and that’s kind of the cohort that we fished on in 2018 and 2019. And 2020 is probably going to be the last hit on this specific cohort. 

Natura Richardson is assistant area manager for the westward region at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game office at Kodiak. At average weights of 2.2 pounds, the fishery should produce 182,000 crabs.

Despite the low catch, she says managers don’t expect the fishery to go fast.

“We don’t have any conservation concerns because there are so many mature crab in the water so we still feel that we are leaving a good standing stock to reproduce. But because of that people are going to be seeing a lot of non- target crab and not as many legal crabs, so it is probably not going to be really hot and heavy with high catches per unit of effort. I think that it’s going to be a little bit more work to get to the legal males.”

Only mature male crabs can be retained for sale.

Looking ahead, the future bodes well for westward region Tanners. Surveys have been tracking the biggest pulse of crab they’ve ever seen for several years. And the Tanners seem to be growing faster than usual.

“The next pulse in the water has definitely retained. And we saw the next pulse in the survey last year, and we saw them again this year. So we have a lot of hope that they will continue to track through the population. They have survived at a higher rate relative to the previous 2013 pulse. So that definitely looks promising for future fisheries.”

Richardson agrees that the staying power of the upcoming Tanner cohort could be a result of less predation from fewer cod in the Gulf.

Fisheries at Chignik and the South Peninsula will remain closed although the outlook for those regions appears hopeful.

Last season 82 crabbers dropped pots for 615,000 pounds of Tanners at Kodiak. The statewide average price was $3.94/lb.

By the way — Tanner crab is spelled with a capitol T because it is named after discoverer Zera Luther Tanner, commander of the  research vessel Albatross which explored Alaska waters in the late 1800s.