Alaskan officials have halted the winter harvest of smaller snow crab and, in a first, the fall harvest of red king crab from Bristol Bay. A fleet from Alaska, Washington, and Oregon that hunts for Bering Sea crab in harvests that brought in $280 million in 2016 is dealt a double blow by the relocation.
Surveys of Alaska’s opilio and Bering Sea king crab fisheries indicate that this season will be particularly bad.
Although the final results of the surveys for the upcoming season won’t be available until sometime in September or October 2022, Mark Stichert, a groundfish and shellfish fisheries management coordinator with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, says that preliminary data from the first of the three surveys indicates that crabbers will once again remain tethered to the docks.
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Bering Sea Crab Season Cancelled
The snow crab fishery in the Bering Sea will not start up this season for the first time ever. Monday afternoon, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game made the closure official. This year will mark the second consecutive closure of the red king crab fishery in Bristol Bay.
With his father, brothers, and uncles, Gabriel Prout is a co-owner of the F/V Silver Spray. A steel crabber measuring 116 feet long with a homeport in Kodiak is called The Silver Spray. He claimed that despite going out for king crab in a typical year, he wasn’t surprised that Fish and Game had shut down the king crab fishery. However, there has been a decrease in population, and that fishery was closed last year as well.
The complete closure of the snow crab fishery this year was equally as shocking as last year’s absolute collapse, which Prout called “the genuinely shocking part.” It surprised biologists as well, according to Miranda Westphal, an area management biologist with Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game.
The Bering Sea snow crab stock had unprecedented recruitment in 2018. In 2019, the figures began to decline, and the pandemic prevented a survey in 2020. The biggest fall in snow crab population we have ever seen was observed in 2021, according to the survey, which Westphal said was “quite alarming” for everyone.
We weren’t expecting that; instead, we were expecting the population to contribute to this record recruiting. According to Westphal, the population numbers this year were much worse, which led to the shutdown of the fishery. The quota was lowered by nearly 90% from 2020.
According to Westphal, the exact cause of the snow crab collapse is unknown, but they believe warmer ocean conditions brought on by global warming may have contributed to the problem. According to Westphal, there are typically 60 boats out looking for Bering Sea snow crab.
According to Prout, a Kodiak fisherman, a boat’s total catch is normally worth $1.2 million to $1.5 million, and a deckhand can make $50,000 to $80,000 in a good year. On October 15, the Bering Sea’s meagre tanner crab fishery is set to begin. The Band-Aid, according to Prout, is what it is.
To travel to the fishing grounds in the Bering Sea, he calculates that it currently costs roughly $100,000 in petrol, roundtrip. The Silver Spray’s more than 200 crab pots require steel, which has increased in price. He is still awaiting reparations from the federal government for previous bad seasons and closures related to the fishing that caused disasters for him and his family.
Prout claims that his family works as summertime tenders in Prince William Sound, and they are already looking toward that season to help offset some of the financial losses resulting from the closing of the crab industry. While possibilities will be limited for others.
People will have to “make some pretty tough decisions here, whether it’s selling out fully of their quota shares, selling their vessels, or seeking for other chances in other fishing sectors, which are few and far between,” according to Prout. According to Prout, fishermen would suffer greatly in the upcoming year.
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Effects Of Collapsed Bering Sea Crab Stocks
- The decline in Bering Sea crab supplies is affecting Alaskan fishermen and communities. Long-term declines in Bristol Bay red king crab and snow crab supplies led to major decreases in 2022 Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands crab harvest.
- Bristol Bay’s red king crab fishery is closed for the first time since the 1990s, while the Bering Sea snow crab quota was cut by 90%. North Pacific Fishery Management Council and National Marine Fisheries Service are working on a snow crab stock regeneration plan.
- Meanwhile, crab fisherman are struggling with this year’s reduction. When crabbing season began in January- red king crab fishing normally begins in October- boat captains had to determine if it was worth travelling to the Bering Sea for a smaller quota.
- Gabriel Prout of Kodiak waited out a storm in Akutan harbour last week. His boat, the F/V Silver Spray, could only catch 100,000 pounds of snow crab. Because fishing was so slow, they caught just 75,000 pounds and traded the rest for bairdi.
- Prout claimed ice made fishing tough. First time in years, ice reached the northern edge of St. Paul Island, covering many crab hotspots. Prout said fishing was slow even in open locations.
- Last year, they caught 200 to 300 crab each pot. “Returning to the same region this year, I found it poor and spotty. We lacked 200 crabs. Our high pot was 180, or 100 keepers. Boring. Some boats sailed farther north in mid-January, but ice covered some of the best sites.
- The Silver Spray fished its usual grounds, but not every boat did. Prout said others stayed in port to save gasoline and crew pay in a low-quota year. Others diversify by trading quotas and seeking other opportunities. After crabbing season, the Silver Spray will sail the Gulf of Alaska to fish for sac roe herring in Sitka Sound.
- St. Paul Fishing Co. offers both. The company owns three crabbing vessels and quota in the Bering Sea crab fishery. The firm, headquartered on a small island in the central Bering Sea with around 470 year-round residents, has purchased up more crab quotas in the region, making itself economically dependent on the crab fishery.
- St. Paul Fishing Co. CEO Jeff Kauffman said two boats fished snow crab this year. One boat might carry one load and another two. Finally.
- In 2015, the firm bought Icicle Seafoods’ crab quota. St. Paul’s economic mainstay is crab. Halibut provides food and personal income to the island, but crab brings in the most money. CDQ holds pollock and black cod quotas, but not as much as crab. Kauffman claimed Pollock’s 19% cut hurt too. The processing factory is a key job, and landing taxes pay the municipal infrastructure and government.
- St. Paul Fishing Co. and CBSFA leaders met after the cuts were revealed to consider emergency budget trimming, Kauffman said. The organization controlled its budget this year, but the boats and workers are paying, he said.
- One boat caught 1.8 million pounds last year but only 200,000 this year, he claimed. Everything seems to be getting more expensive, and we have less money to pay for it.
- No one knows when or if crab stocks will revive or why they’re declining. Researchers are confident something caused a death, but aren’t sure what. Fishermen and towns must plan around crab shortages until they recover.
- Loss of local government revenue is another big cost of the fishery decrease. Unalaska Mayor Vincent Tutiakoff Sr. wrote in September 2021, when the crab TAC reduction were originally considered, that the city would lose fisheries landing taxes from the Bristol Bay red king crab and snow crab fisheries, gasoline sales taxes, and wharfage revenue. At the time, a 50% drop in snow crab meant $1.7 million less for a municipal with a $30 million operating budget.
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