Crab season opens with smaller quota
Norton Sound crab fishermen began dropping their pots into the Bering Sea Tuesday, June 25 at noon. Deliveries to Norton Sound Seafood Products started arriving three days later. The crabs coming in are big and healthy, but the small quota means less potential income for the fishermen. This year’s quota, set by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is 147,000 pounds, about half of what it was last year.
“The legal male biomass has been going down,” said Jim Menard, ADF&G area manager for the Norton Sound region. “And so we’re allowed a percentage of that. It has been on the down swing.”
ADF&G does a trawl survey every year. Menard believes the crab population will bottom out and then start to swing back up in its natural cycle.
“At this point there’s no real way to tell where it’s going to go from here,” said Kevin Clark, assistant area manager. “Basically we look at it every year and every year we reassess what the biomass is and what our catchable limit is going to be. So I can’t tell you for sure what it’s going to be next year but what we look for is recruitment events where we’ve got smaller crab coming up through the cycle.” He said they don’t have a real good feel for the strength of that recruitment yet. “We do have some indication of another recruitment event coming up but when that’s going to come into the fishery it’s still to early to say,” he said. Clark spent seven years in Dutch Harbor with ADF&G.
According to Clark Nome crab fishermen are fishing on a recruitment event that happened several years ago. The crab coming to the docks now are from that event so they are older, larger crabs. “We’re fishing on an older recruitment event that is in a bigger age class now,” said Clark.
The Bering Sea is unusually warm this summer but how that affects the crab is not known. “Maybe they move out a little farther to get away from the warm water,” said Menard. “But usually the cold water is at the bottom.”
The harvest last winter was hampered by the ice going out six weeks early, bringing in only 3,295 lbs of the 12,048 pounds that was allowed to be caught by the winter quota. The remainder has been rolled over to the summer fishery. Norton Sound elected not to fish during the winter so they’ll fish the CDQ during the summer season.
How long the season lasts depends on whether the fishermen stay on the crab once they find it. As of Friday, there are 27 fishermen registered. Last year, 37 crabbers registered and 33 fished. If the fishermen have to hunt for the crab the season could last a while despite the small quota.
This year’s trawl survey will take place in mid-July.