It’s a wrap for the red king crab fishery at Bristol Bay with a fleet of 54 boats taking the 3.8 million pound catch quota in little over one month.
That’s the lowest catch since 2005 and it could be the last one for the foreseeable future.
Fishing was scratchy with an average catch of 15.6 crabs per pot, down five from the past two years and the lowest catch rate in 14 years.
The red king crab were hefty, averaging 7.14 pounds, the biggest weight in the history of the fishery. But the large size does not bode well for the future. It indicates lots of older crabs make up the bulk of an aging stock, said Miranda Westphal, Area Management Biologist at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Dutch Harbor, speaking to KUCB.
“We’ve been seeing the same group of large legal males. Not a lot of recruits coming into the fishery, and not a lot of recruits to the stock in general.”
Survey data has shown a 13 percent decrease in the red king crab stocks each year since 2013. Westphal said that’s likely to result in a fishery closure.
“We’ve been on a downward trend for quite a while now. “We would expect that trend to continue, especially with the extreme environmental conditions. So we’d expect probably to have a closure next year or the following season.”
The last time a red king crab season was cancelled at Bristol Bay was in in 1994.
No word on price but it is expected to be high, said Jake Jacobsen, director of the Inter-cooperative Exchange which represents about 75% of the Bering Sea crab fleet.
“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.Market shortfalls will likely be made up by imports of king crab from Russia
Federal trade data show that through September, Russia has imported over 1.5 million pounds of red king crab to the U.S. worth more than $26 million. Meanwhile, Russia stopped buying U.S. crab and other seafood in 2013.