Bering Sea snow crab fishing underway
Bering Sea snow crab fishing was just getting underway, and the first deliveries were expected later this week, according to Ethan Nichols of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor when the snow crab quota was cut back again this year by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. There is a reduced Bering Sea Tanner crab season, thanks to new rules allowing fishing when fewer female crustaceans are present. And small boats in the Unalaska Island area have a Tanner fishery for the first time in two years.
The Bering Sea opilio snow crab fishery was cut by 12 percent, with a quota of 18.9 million pounds, down from 21.6 million in the previous season.
The snow crab fishery has been in continuing decline for the past seven years, since 2007, said shellfish biologist Miranda Westphal, of ADF&G in Unalaska. Two years ago, during the 2015-16 season, it was 40.6 million pounds.
There is a quota this year for Bering Sea Tanner crab, but only in the western district, at 2.5 million pounds. Last year the entire fishery was closed, and would have been again this year, if not for policy changes made at the May meeting of the Alaska Board of Fisheries, according to Westphal.
The new policy lowers the female threshold limit. Under the previous harvest strategy, both districts would have remained closed this year, she said. The Alaskan Bering Sea Crabbers, with the support of the local governments of St. Paul and Unalaska, lobbied for the new policy giving biologists more flexibility in quota setting.
Earlier this week, 17 vessels crabbing for Western Bering Sea Tanners had made 39 landings weighing 1.475 million pounds for 59 percent of the quota, with 1 million pounds still in the water, according to Fish and Game.
Small boats around Unalaska will have some crab this year.
Following a one-year closure, the small boat Eastern Aleutian District Tanner Crab Fishery opens Jan. 15, with two boats registered for the 35,000-pound quota in the Makushin/Skan Bay Section. The pot limit is 50 Tanner crab pots per vessel. The other two sections, Unalaska/Kalekta Bay, and Akutan remain closed. The daytime fishery is limited to the hours between 8 a.m. and 5:59 p.m. However, pots set before 6 p.m. may soak overnight until the next daily fishing period, according to ADF&G.
The Aleutian Islands golden king crab quotas are unchanged, at 3.31 million pounds in the east, and 2.235 million in the western district.
As of Monday, three vessels catching eastern goldens had made 35 deliveries weighing a total of 2.9 million pounds for 87 percent of the quota. In the west, three vessels had made 34 deliveries of the golden king crab, formerly termed brown king crab, weighing 1.9 million pounds for 84 percent of the quota. Both golden crab seasons opened Aug. 1 and close on April 30.
The Pribilof District red and blue king crab fisheries are closed again this year. "The 2017 area-swept estimates for Pribilof District blue king crab indicate continued low abundance, remaining well below the minimum stock size threshold," according to Fish and Game. For similar conservation reasons, the Saint Matthew Island Section blue king crab fishery is closed again to commercial fishing.
Jim Paulin can be reached at email@example.com