Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

Crab Industry Braces for News from Summer Surveys in Bering Sea

 

September 1, 2018

More than 65,000 pounds of Bristol Bay red king crab were delivered to King Cove in October 2011. Photo by Margaret Bauman.

It's summer in Alaska, and with openers on the state's major crab fisheries still three months off, lucky diners at one Anchorage restaurant had a window of opportunity for entrees of fresh wild king crab dinners.

Yes indeed, says, Ann Marie Moylan, operations manager for the Bridge Restaurant, located on a bridge over Ship Creek, for about a week to 10 days in mid-summer, The Bridge sources Norton Sound red king crab from Nome, flown in fresh from Nome, to feed crab aficionados.

These crab, the only king crab to be commercially harvested in Alaska in summer months, are caught by fishermen working from small boats. While the Bridge does not post its prices online, Norton Sound Seafood Products in Nome does. Ten pounds of Norton Sound red king crab goes for $309.90, or $599.80 for 20 pounds of sections.

For the rest of its summer season, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, chefs Al Levinsohn and Patrick Hoogerhyde rely on refreshed Bristol Bay red king crab to serve up king crab cakes with remoulade sauce as appetizers and entrees of Alaska king crab legs hot or chilled, ready to snap and eat with spicy red sauce or drawn butter.

And while diners are enjoying that sumptuous Alaskan king crab under the midnight sun, the commercial crab industry awaits the information on quotas for the 2018-2019 season they will need to plan harvesting trips, processing needs and marketing capabilities.

Preliminary information on the Western Aleutian Islands golden king crab fishery, which opened on Aug. 1, indicated that that crab would be more expensive for Chinese consumers, but that the market is so robust that it will absorb the additional cost, said Jake Jacobsen, director of the Seattle-based Inter-Cooperative Exchange, which negotiates prices for most of the crab fleet.

Jacobsen noted that there are still uncertainties about how the tariffs imposed in the current trade war will impact Alaska fisheries. "Our lobbyist in DC is watching," he said.

The major commercial fisheries for Bristol Bay red king crab, plus opilio and tanner crab open on Oct. 15, and summer survey data gathered annually on crab abundance in the waters of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands determines how much king, opilio and tanner crab may be harvested in those fisheries, a percentage of which is allocated to the state's community development quota entities.

That data, set for release in mid-August, will be analyzed by biologists, and their conclusions will determine the allowable catch or no catch at all for several commercial crab fisheries in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands.

"When abundance is high it allows for a higher exploitation rate," notes Mark Stichert, regional management coordinator for groundfish and shellfish for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Kodiak, "We've been at about a 12.5 percent exploitation range, but we were approaching the lower end, so if abundance continues to drop, we would drop to the 10 percent exploitation range. We've been seeing a general slow declining trend."

The Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands total allowable catch rate last year was 6.6 million pounds, the lowest TAC since 1996.

Bering Sea water temperatures have been warmer than average and the sea ice cover this past winter was at its lowest levels, but those studying the survey results aren't commenting on any related information until all the data has been thoroughly analyzed.

Crab boat owners and operators meanwhile are hiring crew, buying supplies and getting their vessels shipshape for what is inevitably a rough journey.

Keeping those large crab boats properly maintained and upgraded is a substantial, but necessary cost. About a third of the 70 to 75 crab vessels used in the Bering Sea fisheries come to the Pacific Fishermen Shipyard in Seattle for maintenance, repairs and upgrades, where industry veteran Doug Dixon has served as general manager and shipyard director since November 2013.

Dixon, who holds a degree in naval architecture and marine engineering from the University of Michigan, says most of those boats were built in the late 1970s and need maintenance and eventually need a complete overhaul, which can take two to three months and cost about one million dollars. "We take them out of the water, shake them upside down, put all the pieces back in properly, pat them on the butt, and they go," he said.

With about 250 different components on these vessels, which travel onto the high seas in the coldest, harshest weather conditions imaginable, a trip to the shipyard can take some time.

Whatever happens, there will definitely be demand once the season opens, says Jamie Goen, who came on board as the new executive director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers in May.

Goen, who has worked for the National Marine Fisheries Service, came to the ABSC from the International Pacific Halibut Commission where she was a branch manager. "I love eating crab," she said.

Growing up in Florida, she said that she always asked for king crab to celebrate special occasions.

Glen Guffey, Peter Pan plant manager. Photo by Margaret Bauman.

Along with her passion for eating crab, Goen has a passion for helping fishermen navigate through the maze of fisheries management and fisheries policy, as the cost of doing business rises with increasing taxes, fees and other expenses. Another challenge in her job with ABSC is keeping a close eye on the health of the resource. "We are very actively collaborating," she said. ABSC works with Bering Sea Research Foundation, NMFS and ADF&G to collaborate on the science and research on the crab fishery, she said.

BSFRF is a non-profit, industry-funded cooperative research organization that conducts collaborative research to improve the science of crab fishery management in the Bering Sea.

Its 2017 field season and data collection and analyses included two surveys in the Bering Sea, one to collect juvenile tanner and snow crab for a growth experiment at the Kodiak National Marine Fisheries Service/Alaska Department of Fish and Game labs and the larger scale side-by-side crab trawl selectivity study done in conjunction with NMFS.

 
 

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