Commercial fishing for an abundance of Bering Sea snow crab, and much smaller quotas of Bristol Bay red king crab and Bering Sea Tanner crab gets under way Oct. 15. Harvesters will be mindful of the usual dangers at sea, plus costly pandemic health mandates.
The 2020-21 crab fisheries quotas are 45 million pounds for Bering Sea snow crab, up from 34 million pounds a year ago, biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Dutch Harbor office announced this past week. The Bristol Bay red king crab quota is 2.6 million pounds, down from 3.8 million pounds, and the Western Bering Sea Tanner crab quota is 2.3 million pounds, up from zero quota in a closed season last year.
The Pribilof District red and blue king crab seasons remain closed, as well as the St. Matthew Island blue king crab season. ADF&G biologists noted after completion of stock assessments that due to the high potential for blue king crab bycatch during the red and blue king crab fishery that the red king crab fishery in the Pribilofs would remain closed. Both the Pribilof blue king crab and Saint Matthew Island crab fisheries were also below the federal minimum stock size threshold and consequently were still considered overfished.
Annual Bering Sea trawl surveys for groundfish and shellfish were cancelled earlier this year due to staffing complications and safety concerns over the novel coronavirus pandemic.
All vessels participating in the shellfish fisheries are required to adhere to state and local community health mandates to protect their crews and coastal communities from contacting the virus.
Lower quotas in the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery notwithstanding, the usual number of participants are expected because of the value of that harvest and the desire to keep crews employed.
“Once you get a good crew you want to hang on to them,” said Jamie Goen, executive director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. “We fish in the toughest weather and with COVID there are additional precautions, (but) we are incredibly grateful that we have fisheries we can conduct.”
Ethan Nichols, assistant area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Dutch Harbor, said that sign-ups for the fishery were just beginning the week of Oct. 5, but that he expected 50-55 vessels to sign up for the red king crab fishery. Last year, even with a quota of 3.8 million pounds, 56 vessels signed up and the year before that 55, he said.
Most commercial harvesters fish the red king crab fishery first, then head out for snow crab from January through March, he said.
Markets for king crab and snow crab are doing well right now, according to Jake Jacobsen, executive director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, the largest cooperative of Bering Sea crab harvesters. Even while Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle is selling previously frozen Alaska king crab legs and claws at $49.99 a pound, seafood shops are starting to take orders for the 2020-21 fresh catch. Current prices at 10th and M Seafoods in Anchorage are $38.95 a pound for red king crab and $44.95 a pound for snow crab claws.