Bering Sea crab stocks are in dire straits but that’s not the case in the Gulf of Alaska.
A huge Tanner crab cohort that biologists have been tracking in the Westward region for three years showed up again in this summer’s survey.
“We were optimistic and we did find them again this year. So pretty much all the way across the board here from Kodiak all the way out to False Pass, essentially, we found those crab again and in good quantity. These are all very preliminary numbers but the very, very rough, very preliminary numbers look like we’ve at least hit the minimum abundance threshold in in all three areas of Kodiak, Chignik and South Penn. So we’re excited about that.”
Nat Nichols is area manager for the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game at Kodiak.
The last Tanner opener was for 400,000 pounds in 2020 as crabbers tapped on remaining legal males from a 2013 year class, awaiting the current crop. The harvestable crab typically weigh between 2-4 pounds each.
“A Tanner crab is getting to be legal size around age four or five, and then they start to die of natural causes or age out of the population by around seven or eight. So once they start to become legal, we can expect them to hang around for potentially three years, and there’ll be more small crab behind them so you can kind of think of this as the front edge.”
The new cohort, Nichols says, is one of the largest ever. It appears to be two big year classes with a broad range of sizes that could support several years of fishing.
“Obviously a lot of those are females so they won’t be in the fishery and not all those estimated male crabs are going to get to legal size, but still those are some pretty big estimates when you look at it. In 2019 the estimate was 223 million. And then last year, in 2020, it was down to 108 million. But those crab are getting bigger and approaching legal size. So even though you’re seeing estimates go down quite a bit, it’s still going to turn into a pretty good estimate of a legal grab in the water.
Biologists have several weeks of number crunching before a decision is made. But Nichols says they are optimistic about a Tanner fishery potentially opening in seven districts come mid-January.
“This is just you the first hurdle to pass. And there’s several more as you move your way through the harvest strategy, but just based on meeting those minimal abundance thresholds that at least opens the door for a conversation about six different fisheries, six different GHLs. And that doesn’t even include the Semedi Islands overlap section of the Kodiak district which would be open also. Under that scenario, that would be seven different sections open.”
A Tanner fishery announcement will be made in early November.
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.