Crabbers will help test the waters for Tanners at Prince William Sound next month.

It will be the first time since 1988 that commercial pots are dropped in western and eastern portions of outside waters. The fishery will open under a Commissioners Permit, issued in special circumstances.

“Basically, it’s a fact finding mission. We don’t know what is there and we want to know what is there and so we’re letting everybody know what we know. And what we know is that there was a small amount of crab in the western district but we were encouraging people to go and explore.”

Jan Rumble is area management biologist for Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet shellfish and groundfish at Fish and Game in Homer.

The trial opener, she says, was prompted by increasing numbers of Tanner crabs being pulled up in subsistence pots, and the fact that the department’s trawl survey does not focus in these two districts.

The survey last summer produced poor legal male results but some good numbers of pre-recruits. But much of the Western area can’t be accessed with trawl gear and crabbers can help investigate further.

A harvest strategy for the whole Sound was passed by the Board of Fisheries last year, has a legal male threshold that is estimated with results from the trawl survey.

“We have our trawl survey but there are many areas in PWS that are not trawlable that we don’t cover with our survey because they are not trawlable or we don’t believe there’s concentrated populations of Tanner crab. 2  We don’t know what’s there. The information we have shows small levels of crab but we want to react to the public and try to find out what’s there.”

The fishery, which will open March 1and could run through the month, will be small scale and Rumble says it’s anyone’s guess how much crab it will produce.

“There is no guideline harvest level. This is a fact finding mission.”

Crabbers must get a permit from the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission and will be required to call in catches daily.

The fishery also is super-exclusive, meaning it is off limits to those who have dropped pots in other Tanner fisheries.

“That means they cannot participate. So people in Kodiak who are vessel operators and vessels cannot jump over and participate in PWS.”

  Crabbers also must show that they have a market for their catch. Rumble says Trident is planning to process the Tanners out of Cordova.

“That’s exciting and it’s given the town of Cordova a sense of optimism.”

Decades ago the Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet and Yakutat regions kept local processors busy all year with big catches of Tanners, king and Dungeness crab. But stocks plummeted with arrivals of huge schools of cod and pollock.

Rumble says the Tanner trial gives a glimmer of hope, but people should not have unrealistic expectations.

“This is really exploratory and we are optimistic that we can get some information but we also are encouraging people to understand why we are doing this and what we are after.”

The results of the Tanner test fishery will determine what happens next.

Contact Fish and Game in Homer to sign on or learn more. (907) 235-8191.