Snow crab up, king crab quota down in Bering Sea
UNALASKA — It’s not much, but there is a red king crab season. And snow crab is up 45 percent, and Tanners are down slightly, but at least that one will go forward due to a revised harvest strategy.
Bering Sea commercial crabbing started Oct. 15, with the smallest quota for Bristol Bay red king crab in more than 30 years of 4.3 million pounds, a 35 percent decrease from last year’s 6.6 million pounds.
The last time there was such a low number when a fishery was held was in 1985, at 4.1 million pounds, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game Assistant Area Management Biologist Ethan Nichols in Unalaska.
Nichols expects fewer boats fishing this year, with fishermen combining quotas onto one boat that otherwise would have been fished by two vessels, because of the harvest reduction leading to the efficiency move.
At least there is a red king crab season, despite earlier fears of a complete cancelation, according to Unalaska Mayor Frank Kelty.
“We wish it was more, but we’re happy there’s a king crab season,” said Jake Jacobsen, executive director of the Seattle-based Inter-Cooperative Exchange, which negotiates prices for the crab fishing fleet.
The season began Oct. 15 with red king crab, with snow and Tanner crab typically fished in the winter.
On a brighter note, the snow crab quota of 27.6 million pounds is up 45 percent from last year’s 19 million pounds.
And there will be a Tanner crab fishery in the western district, which wouldn’t have happened two years ago. That’s because of a major lobbying effort led by Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, the political arm of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, with the support of Fish and Game, adopted in May 2017 by the Alaska Board of Fisheries, following the closure of both districts the prior year.
“Both the eastern and western Bering Sea Tanner crab fisheries would have been closed for 2018-19 using the old harvest strategy due to being below the female threshold,” according to Nichols.
The Tanner quota is 2.4 million pounds, a 2 percent decrease from last year’s 2.5 million pounds in the western district, west of 166 degrees west longitude between Unalaska and Akutan islands. The eastern district remains closed.
Jacobsen said the trade war between the U.S. and China will have little effect on the crab fishery, since most of the product goes to domestic markets and Japan, although Chinese consumers will pay more because of the tariffs imposed by China in retaliation for President Donald Trump’s new taxes imposed on imports from China.
The U.S. import taxes don’t matter, because Alaskan crab is not re-exported back to the United States from China, he said. Various groundfish and salmon from Alaska are re-exported back to the U.S. following processing by low-wage Chinese labor.
Jim Paulin can be reached at [email protected]