By Margaret Bauman
Prices are down a bit, but demand remains strong, as harvesters of Alaska’s deadliest catch, albeit multi-million dollar crab fishery await stock survey results that will determine quotas for the 2013-2014 fishery.
Online marketers in Alaska like FishEx, in Anchorage, were asking nearly $36 a pound in early August for frozen giant king crab legs, nearly $49 a pound for Alaska king crab meat and $29.21 a pound for split Alaska red king crab legs. Alaska snow crab, also known as opilio, was selling for $11 a pound, and split red king crab legs for $37.46 a pound.
Another processor was offering 10 pounds of jumbo king crab legs for $349.
At Kodiak, Island Seafoods offered online frozen Bristol Bay red king crab for $28.95 a pound, and Kodiak golden king crab for $24.95 a pound, plus Kodiak Island snow crab for $14.95, and Bering Sea snow crab for $11.95 a pound, and whole cooked Dungeness crab for $17.95 a pound.
Negotiations with Japanese buyers of red king crab are still weeks away and negotiations for opilio crab traditionally begin in January, but some marketers of Alaska crab are meanwhile engaged in what they describe as “ a big row” with Walmart over what they say are indications that Walmart is showing a preference for Russian crab.
“The primary factor has been there have been some treaties signed between Russia, Japan, Korea and China intended to deal with illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing activities,” said Jake Jacobsen, executive director for the Inter-cooperation Exchange in Seattle. “Those treaties were signed, but not implemented, so there was a move to get as much landed as they could before the treaties went into effect.”
There are large quantities of snow crab and king crab from Russia this year and it is illegal, unregulated and unreported crab,” he said.
“Alaska’s crab fisheries are some of the best managed in the world,” said Tyson Fick, a spokesman for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
“With all of the well-documented troubles the Russian fisheries have had with illegal, unreported, and unregulated crab entering the world market it is surprising that we would have Walmart saying they will purchase crab from that fishery because it is supposedly defined as sustainable because of a fisheries improvement project. We will continue to rely on all that Alaska has to offer, such as the strong reputation we have for fisheries management and the highest quality product,” Fick said.
Walmart spokesman Christopher Schraeder denied that there are efforts underway to purchase the Russian over Alaskan crab.
The company “has bought wild Alaska crab in the past and will buy it this year,” Schraeder said August 6.
WalMart announced back in February 2006 plans to purchase all of its wild-caught fresh and frozen fish for US markets from the Marine Stewardship council-certified fisheries.
He does, however, point to a company policy requiring that all wild seafood suppliers, be third-party certified as sustainable using Marine Stewardship Council, Best Aquaculture Practices or equivalent standards.
But crab processors doing business in Alaska have chosen to not use the MSC certification program.
Instead the Alaska’s Bering Sea and Aleutian Island blue and red king crab and snow crab fisheries are certified sustainable by the Global Trust program, which is facilitated by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The Global Trust program is modeled on the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization based responsible fisheries management certification, and for Alaska seafood is facilitated by ASMI.
On August 6, ASMI announced that the first annual audit of Alaska Bering Sea and Aleutian Island blue and red king and snow crab fisheries for responsible fisheries management certification had been completed.
A copy of the lengthy surveillance report undergone by the Alaska crab fisheries is online at http://certification.alaskaseafood.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/FAO-RFM-BSAI-King-Snow-Crab-1st-Surveillance-report_Jul-2013-FINAL.pdf
The objective of the surveillance report is to monitor for any changes or updates after 12 months in the management regime, regulations and their implementation since the previous assessment, and to determine whether these changes, if any, and current practices remain consistent with the overall confidence rating scoring of the fishery allocated during initial certification.
2013-14 Quotas Still Unknown
Last October 15 commercial fishermen heading out to the crab grounds had a quota of 7.85 million pounds of Bristol Bay red king crab, up slightly over the 2011-2012 quota of 7.834 million pounds.
The Bering Sea snow crab quota, meanwhile, was down from 88,894 million pounds a year earlier to 66.35 million pounds.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game had allocated 7,067,700 pounds for individual fishing quota and 785,300 pounds for community development quota.
The Bering Sea snow crab quota called for a total allowable catch of 66,350,000 pounds, including 59,715,000 pounds of individual fishing quota and 6,635,000 pounds of community development quota.
The St. Matthew Island blue king crab fishery quota was 1,630,000 pounds for the 2013-2014 season, including 1,467,000 pounds of individual fishing quota and 163,000 pounds of community development quota.
Survey results will dictate quotas for the upcoming season, and depending on survey information, scientists will also be studying environmental factors and predators that could impact the crab habitat. The crab plan team is scheduled to meet September 17-20 at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle to review the stock assessment output and make their recommendations on overfishing limits and acceptable biological catch.
Status determination criteria for crab stocks are calculated annually using a five-tier system that accommodates varying levels of uncertainty of information. The five-tier system incorporates new scientific information and provides a mechanism to continually improve the status determination criteria as new information becomes available. Under this five-tier system, overfishing and overfished criteria and acceptable biological catch levels are formulated annually.
Each crab stock is annually assessed to determine its status and whether overfishing is occurring or the rate or level of fishing mortality for the stock is approaching overfishing. The stock is overfished or the stock is approaching an overfished condition and the catch has exceeded the annual catch limit.
According to Ruth Christiansen, a scientist with the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, the health of crab stocks appears to be about the same as last year. But the biggest predators are themselves and other crab species, said Christiansen. “They do prey on each other,” she said, and Pacific cod are predators of young king crab, she added.
Another factor is the temperature of the sea.
Last year was the coldest the water temperature has ever been, according to a scientist with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Anchorage, and this June the bottom temperatures were warmer than they have been since 2007.”
Red king crab don’t like it when the bottom temperatures get below 2 degrees Celsius. Warmer bottom temperatures also mean that the crab are not being dispersed as much during the mating season, but it unknown what this means for the health of the general population, said the scientist, Bob Foy.
There is also no reason, he said, to believe that ocean debris is affecting the crab.