King crab harvest was fast, but cuts make crabbers furious
It was fast and furious for Alaska’s premier crab fishery with the fleet catching the nearly 8 million-pound red king crab quota at Bristol Bay in less than three weeks.
The overall take was down 15 percent from the 2015 fishery and will likely fetch record prices when all sales are made.
“The only price we have is an advance price so fishermen can pay fuel, bait and other trip expenses. The final price will be determined from now to January,” said Jake Jacobsen, executive director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, which represents 70 percent of the Bering Sea crab harvesters.
Crabbers fetched an average price of $8.18 per pound for their king crab last year and the fishery was valued at over $81 million at the docks.
The hauls since the fishery got underway on Oct. 15 averaged 37.4 red kings per pot, compared to 32 crabs last year, Jacobsen said, adding that some boats were catching 60 to 70 crab per pot, even as the fishery was coming to a close.
That’s where the furious comes in — the crabbers believe there are lots more crab on the grounds than were revealed in the standardized summer survey upon which the catch quotas are based.
“It’s not one of those things where we don’t think the crab is there, it’s a result of the survey not being able to find them,” said Ruth Christiansen, science adviser and policy analyst for the trade group, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers.
Jacobsen agreed, saying, “Fishermen were very pleased with the good fishing and at the same time furious that the catch could be so low when the resource is more abundant than they’ve seen in many a year.”
He added that they also saw high numbers of female and undersized crab, which bodes well for next year. Only legal-sized males are allowed to be retained for sale.
The Bering Sea crab fisheries are co-managed by the state and the federal government. Federal biologists conduct the annual summer surveys and calculate the catch quotas; the state Department of Fish and Game manages the crab fisheries in-season.
What might the election of Donald Trump mean for the seafood industry? Economic reports already are pointing to his platform of opposing trade and pulling out of the North America Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, a stance that goes against more than 30 years of American policy under presidents of both parties.
NAFTA connects trade between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, and Trump has pledged to impose trade barriers that could reduce markets for seafood and other U.S. exports and drive up the cost of imports, causing banks to restrict lending, according to the New York Times.
It also is a foregone conclusion that he will tank the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership. If Trump does implement trade protectionist policies, it could tip the economy into a recession, cautioned global economists.
Trump also has vowed to place a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports and declare China a currency manipulator on his first day in office. How this will affect the millions of pounds of Alaska seafood that are sent to China for reprocessing and then shipped back for sales in the U.S. is anyone’s guess.
The Wall Street Journal said Trump’s victory could begin “an era of U.S. combativeness” with two of our biggest trade partners — China and Mexico — and prompt trade wars and stall international growth.
Tom Sunderland, vice president of marketing and communications Ocean Beauty Seafood agrees.
“But it’s far too early to speculate on what any of this might mean. We will just have to wait and see, and deal with any changes as they come, he said.”
While Trump’s positions might not pose any direct changes for U.S. fisheries, his vision to “explode fossil fuel development across the nation, including coal” will have a long-term impact on our oceans.
Trump has widely claimed that the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
He has called for gutting the Environmental Protection Agency and is likely to name a top climate skeptic, Myron Ebell, to lead the charge. Like Trump, Ebell calls climate change “bullsh*t,” and both have vowed to “cancel” the Paris global warming accord signed by nearly 200 nations that sets targets to reverse the worst effects of global warming.
Scientific American reports that Ebell has called President Obama’s Clean Power Plan for greenhouse gasses “illegal” and boasts that he has been dubbed a “climate criminal” by Greenpeace.
The topic is likely to dominate discussions during a special Friday afternoon seminar at Fish Expo. Terry Johnson, a Fisheries Professor and Sea Grant Marine Advisor in Anchorage, will present the most current science on a warming world and off kilter ocean chemistry.
A main focus is to hear ideas from fishermen and coastal community reps on how they plan to adapt to the inevitable.
Changes could include things like moving towards bigger, multi-fisheries vessels that allow for more flexibility, and modifying regulatory regimes that lift some of the restrictions on moving from one fishing area to another.
“We have seen a number of climate related changes but they are more results of temporary climate variations, such as El Niño’s and regime shifts on the order of a year or a decade or more. But in the long term, things have not yet been sufficiently dramatic so industry has had to make big changes yet,” he said.
Meanwhile, Johnson said he is very concerned that a Trump administration will slash climate change science.
“Federal scientists and others are doing very important work that will eventually help inform us about how to adapt to climate changes — if that funding is cut off, we’re going to be working in the dark,” he said.
The Expo runs from Nov. 17-19 in Seattle.
Sea a Cure
A campaign to raise money for cancer research has been relaunched by Orca Bay Seafoods and members of the fishing industry. The effort began in 2006 when Orca Bay vice president Trish Haaker was diagnosed with breast cancer, and since then more than $40,000 has been raised for research. The company now has enlarged its mission.
“We are adding the nutrition messages of seafood and its health benefits, and how it can help during cancer treatments and lead to an overall healthier lifestyle,” said Lilani Estacio, Orca Bay’s Marketing and Communications Manager.
All proceeds go to City of Hope, a global leader in cancer research, along with diabetes, heart disease and HIV.
“We are a united industry, and we have a product that benefits not just the livelihood of many, but everyone,” Estacio said. “If we could all gather around and help educate Americans about the benefits of eating seafood — that is our ultimate goal.”
Learn how you can donate at Sea a Cure on Facebook.