Trident gears up for snow crab, responds to pollock chatter

Correction: The original version listed Royal Aleutian as the owner of the Robert M. Thorstenson. The vessel is owned by Icicle Seafoods Inc. and is named after one of the company founders.

Trident Seafoods is gearing up for the largest snow crab harvest in more than a decade.

Owners of the largest crab processing facility on the planet on St. Paul Island, Trident Seafoods will add about 50 employees this season to increase its production capability to about 500,000 pounds per day.

The facility typically employs about 400 people during peak operations with a capacity of 450,000 pounds per day, but with nearly 42 million pounds of snow crab, or opilio, designated for delivery to the North Region in 2012 more workers are needed.

When the Bering Sea crab fisheries were rationalized beginning in the 2005-06 season, regional landing requirements were put in place to protect historical processing participation by communities.

Quota shares for both snow and king crab have either North or South regional designations for delivery, with the North Region represented by the Pribilof Islands receiving about 47 percent of snow crab landings.

Trident Seafoods Chief Legal Counsel Joe Plesha wrote via email that the additional workers, “should be sufficient to process the available opilio quota assuming weather conditions do not close the harbor or otherwise delay fishing for an extended period.” 

The average snow crab delivery in 2010 was 146,444 pounds per vessel. At that rate, the North Region will take nearly 300 deliveries this winter.

Since rationalization, the landing requirements for St. Paul have often created issues because of the harbor icing up, which can prevent or slow deliveries and create safety concerns.

Whether those issues will be a problem again in 2012 depends on the weather, but the sheer volume of snow crab figures to create some logistical challenges.

The harvest set by Alaska Department of Fish and Game increased by 64 percent in 2012 — from 54 million pounds in 2011 to 88.9 million pounds in 2012.

That is easily the largest harvest since 1999, when the snow crab take was 194.6 million pounds. In 1998, the harvest was 252.1 million pounds.

The stock crashed in 2000, though, and ADFG set the harvest at a mere 33.3 million pounds that season as it began a 10-year rebuilding plan.

Bering Sea snow crab is now considered rebuilt, with strong juvenile classes expected to sustain high harvest levels for the next few seasons, and the removal of rebuilding plan buffers allowed for the substantial increase for 2012 versus 2011.

While the total harvest is easily the largest in the last decade, it is also far greater than any harvest since the fishery was rationalized in 2005-06.

The North Region share of 42 million pounds in 2012 is larger than the total harvest for the entire Bering Sea from 2000 to 2007.

During the derby fishery as harvesters raced to catch the crab as fast as possible, as many as seven floating processors worked in the Pribilofs to take deliveries.

Combined with the slower pace of the fishery since rationalization and the lower harvests, only one floating processor has worked in St. Paul annually since 2006 and Trident’s shoreside plant has taken the majority of deliveries.

The floating processor Robert M. Thorstenson owned by Royal Aleutian Icicle Seafoods Inc. will take deliveries in the North Region in 2012 and the large harvest quota could attract a few more catcher vessels to participate this year compared to the 75 who fished in 2011.

Responding to pollock rumors

One of the more fascinating debates of the recent North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Anchorage last month was between stakeholders in the Bering Sea pollock fishery over where to set the 2012 harvest.

Trident Seafoods backed several skippers who advocated for a lower quota than the Scientific and Statistical Committee’s recommended Acceptable Biological Catch, or ABC, of 1.22 million metric tons.

Trident suggested a harvest of 1.08 million metric tons, in line with the ABC recommended by stock assessment author Jim Ianelli. Ianelli based his ABC on discussions with several skippers who described poor fishing conditions in 2011 as the fleet came up about 54,000 metric tons short of the 1.25 million metric ton quota.

The council ultimately set the total allowable catch, or TAC, at 1.2 million metric tons for 2012.

At one point during public comment to the council, John Bundy of Glacier Fish Co. said the members should not be distracted by the “agenda” of Trident as they made their decision on where to set the harvest.

There was talk around the meeting that Trident’s position was being driven by its holdings in Russian pollock rather than conservation concerns.

In response, Plesha gave the following statement regarding Trident’s position on the pollock quota:

“Trident’s position on the appropriate pollock TAC was taken exclusively for conservation concerns. There was a rumor at the Council meeting being circulated by some advocating a high pollock TAC that Trident has a large inventory of pollock in Russia and therefore wanted a lower TAC to increase the value of this inventory. The truth is that Trident does not have a single pound of pollock inventory in Russia.

“Trident has some pollock inventory in Europe and the United States, all of which is fully committed and will be gone by the time pollock from the 2012 A season is available for sale. We are in need of additional pollock as much as, or more than, any company in the industry. 

“Given the inability of Alaska’s very efficient pollock fleet to catch the full quota in 2011, however, and given the legitimate uncertainty over the actual size of the 2008 pollock year class, Trident believed it was prudent to support Dr. Jim Ianelli’s recommendation of a 1.08 MMT pollock quota instead of the 1.22 MMT quota suggested by the Plan Team and SSC.  In summary, Trident’s position regarding the pollock TAC was 100 percent driven by our concern for the health of the pollock resource.”

Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected].

01/11/2012 - 11:05am