Federal disaster determination sought for Alaska’s crab fisheries

The state of Alaska has asked Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to declare a federal fishery disaster determination for the 2022-2023 Bristol Bay red king crab and Bering Sea snow crab fisheries and that Raimondo expedite a disaster determination for the 2021-2022 red king crab fishery as well.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced the request for financial aid on Tuesday, Oct.25, saying that the request to Raimondo was made on Friday, Oct 21.

Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, also said in a statement issued on Oct. 25 that she sent a letter last week to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro asking them to consider appropriating $250 million in disaster relief funding for the shutdown of the red king crab and snow crab fisheries. “Thousands of boat owners, crew members, seafood processor workers, wholesalers, retailers, and service industry workers are and will be affected by this biologically and environmentally necessary but economically devastating shutdown of their livelihood,” Peltola said.

Alaska’s lone member of the U.S. House notes that scientists are continuing to research causes of crab population declines, including warmer water, increased ocean acidity, and bycatch mortality caused by other gear types working in crab habitat areas.

Total losses in ex-vessel value, the amount paid to harvesters, is estimated to be $287.7 million, and total losses for crab-dependent harvesters, processors, communities, and support businesses likely will far exceed this loss, Dunleavy said.

The governor said information available indicated that both crab stock declines were a result of natural causes linked to warming ocean temperatures and that stakeholders and affected Alaska communities would need economic relief.

Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers (ABSC) has asked the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to close the Bering Sea Crab Safety Area for pelagic pot gear and hook and line because of concerns that those fisheries are having an adverse impact on crab, but the council to date has not taken such action. Jamie Goen, the spokeswoman for ABSC, said her association is pleased with the governor’s announcement that the state is seeking federal disaster status for Alaska’s crab fisheries. “Without swift action, our second and third-generation family fishing businesses risk losing everything,” she said

“The decision to close snow and red king crab fishing this year was difficult understanding the impact the closure would have on fishermen and communities,” said Alaska Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang. 

“However, given the lack of meaningful recruitment, my decision was to err on the side of conservation and sustainability. We must now focus on providing disaster relief to fishermen and communities and on developing rebuilding plans for these stocks that involve the fishing industry.”

Dunleavy said that estimated ex-vessel losses from the back-to-back closures of the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery are nearly $85 million dollars.

The collapse of the Bering Sea snow crab stock was first reported in 2021 and a rebuilding plan is being developed.  Meanwhile, the snow crab harvest was significantly reduced for the 2021-2022 season, and the 2022-2023 Bering Sea snow crab season was closed for the first time ever due to further reductions in estimated snow crab abundance. Exvessel losses for the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 seasons are estimated at $202.7 million.