BOF approves PWS tanner crab harvest strategy

CDFU proposal noted that PWS Tanner crab abundance has been increasing

Cordova’s Small Boat Harbor. Photo by Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson/The Cordova Times

Harvest strategies for tanner crab fisheries in Prince William Sound have been approved by the Alaska Board of Fisheries, clearing the way for commercial, sport and subsistence harvests when the crab meet abundance thresholds.

Proposal 268, submitted by Cordova District Fishermen United, amends regulations for Tanner crab in Prince William Sound specifying conditions under which the commercial fishery may occur and establishes a sport fishery for Tanner crab there as well, when the threshold level is reached for mature male abundance.

It has been 27 years since the last Tanner crab fishery in Prince William Sound, and adoption of a commercial harvest strategy there is warranted, CDFU said in submitting the proposal on behalf of over 300 family fishermen members.

A harvest strategy should be formulated from the trawl survey data, the proposal said. Thresholds above which a commercial fishery could occur and guideline harvest levels can be determined conservatively using the same format and formulas used for the Eastern Aleutians District Tanner crab harvest strategy in the Westward Area, which supports a small commercial Tanner crab fishery in most years, CDFU said.

The proposal noted that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has been conducting a trawl survey and producing abundance estimates for Tanner crab in Prince William Sound since 1991, but is closed for commercial harvests until the Board of Fisheries adopts a harvest strategy.

Prince William Sound is the only area in the state that has a stock assessment for Tanner crab and no harvest strategy in regulation, CDFU said. At the 2014 statewide king and Tanner crab meeting of the Board of Fisheries, the board encouraged submission of an agenda change request for consideration of a harvest strategy for Prince William Sound Tanner crab in advance of the next scheduled meeting, and ADF&G asserted at this meeting that they have enough information to create a harvest strategy.

Tanner crab abundance has been increasing in Prince William Sound as documents in ADF&G trawl surveys and subsistence harvests since 2008, CDFU said. With a properly crafted Tanner crab harvest strategy a commercial fishery there could provide economic opportunity to local fishermen and communities, CDFU said.

Given the current state fiscal crisis, fishery surveys are being eliminated, and surveys conducted by the Division of Commercial fisheries that have no commercial fishery associated with them are most likely to be cut.

If a harvest strategy is not adopted now, we risk the loss of the survey and with it any hope for a commercial Tanner crab fishery in Prince William Sound, CDFU said.

Proposal 267, proposed by ADF&G, also supports creation of a harvest strategy and amending of regulations for Tanner crab in Prince William Sound specifying conditions under which the commercial fishery may occur and also reduce the legal size limit in the subsistence Tanner crab fishery.

The Board of Fisheries also approved during its statewide king and tanner crab an supplemental issues meeting in Anchorage in March a number of other proposals, including Proposal 249, which sets a 20 pot per vessel limit in the South Peninsula Tanner crab fishery.

The three Sand Point residents who submitted the proposal reasoned that a lower pot limit could help the Tanner stock in the region get re-established, said Ernie Weiss, natural resources director for the Aleutians East Borough, writing about the meeting in Fish News, the borough’s online newsletter.

The pot limit per vessel had been 30 pots if the guideline harvest level is 2 million pounds or less, and no more than 50 pots when the GHL is over 2 million pounds.

With adoption of the amended version of Proposal 249, the pot limit for future Tanner crab fisheries will be no more than 20 pots per vessel for a GHL of up to 2 million pounds, no more than 30 pots per vessel for a GHL of 2 million to 3 million pounds, and up to 50 pots per vessel for a GHL of 3 million pounds or more.

The Board of Fisheries also will take a harder look at the harvest strategy for Bering Sea Tanner crab at a special meeting in Anchorage May 17-18, to see if that strategy needs to be modified in some way, said Glenn Haight, executive director of that board. The Bering Sea Tanner crab fishery, which normally opens in October, was closed this year.