Southeast crabbers are out harvesting Tanner and Golden King Crab. Both seasons opened on February 17th. Tanner boats get six days to fish in the most popular “core” areas and a total of eleven days in the non-core areas.
The Tanner crab stocks are on the upswing in Southeast according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s annual survey, which is conducted each fall.
“Our estimate of mature male abundance, mature male biomass, was 4.3 million pounds so that was up from the 3.1 million pounds that we estimated in 2011 and the year before that was 2.9 million pounds. So we are seeing tanner stocks in the region abundance trending up,” said Joe Stratman, lead crab biologist for the region.
54 permit-holders registered to fish for tanner crab this year. Those limited-entry boats, which fish with large crab pots, land most of the catch each year. A very small portion comes from fishermen in the open-entry, ring-net fishery. 24 boats are registered to do that this year.
Participation was a little lower last year and the fleet landed a total of 1.1 million pounds, which was the largest tanner harvest in the past eleven seasons. It was worth around 3 dollars a pound or about 3 million dollars total on the docks.
Golden King Crab Fishermen get a total of 590,000 pounds to catch this year. That’s down about six percent from last year. Golden crab is managed differently than Tanner. Instead of setting a season length, state biologists set a separate guideline harvest level or GHL for each of the seven golden crab areas. The GHL is based on data from past fisheries. During the fishery, the crabbers call in their catches and managers shut each area, one at a time, as its GHL is reached. That can be a matter of weeks or more than a month depending on the area.
The GHL’s for the Northern, Icy Strait, and North Stevens Pass areas are down substantially from last year. Catch rates have been declining in those areas, according to Stratman.
“You know I think the intent of these GHL reductions for all three areas is to stop the decrease in commercial fishery catch rates that we’re seeing and to prevent long-term damage to the reproductive potential of the stock. So we thought it was necessary to make those GHL reductions in those areas,” he said.
However, the story is a bit different for the other four golden crab areas known as East Central, Mid-Chatham Strait, Lower Chatham Strait and Southern. Stratman says the Department has been seeing more stable catch rates and other positive data in those areas in recent years. Three of the four saw small increases in their GHL’s this year.
38 boats are registered to fish golden crab this year.
Last year, Golden crab sold for an average of around eight dollars a pound. The 600,000 pound harvest was worth a total of 4.7 million dollars to the fleet.