Southeast Tanner crab fishermen landed their biggest catch in over a decade last month. That’s according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which just came out with a preliminary estimate for the commercial tanner harvest, which closed in late February. Lead crab biologist Joe Stratman puts the catch at one-point-one million pounds.
“This harvest exceeded last season’s harvest by 210 thousand pounds and is the largest tanner harvest in the last 11 seasons. You have to go all the way back to the 2000/2001 season to find a larger harvest,” he says.
70 Permit holders took part in the fishery, which started in mid-February. It was open for a week in the most popular “core” fishing areas, and 12 days on the “non-core” grounds. The Southeast tanner grounds are all in the Northern part of the region. Stratman says the largest effort and harvest took place in District Eleven which includes Seymour Canal off Admiralty Island, Holkum bay and Snettisham off the mainland south of Juneau, and the back side of Douglass Island.
Stratman says, “In District 11, 410 thousand pounds were harvested by 21 permit holders. District 14, which includes places like Icy Straits and Excursion Inlet was second with 300 thousand pounds taken by 16 permit holders. And District Ten, which includes places like Thomas Bay, Port Houghton, Pybus Bay and Gambier Bay saw a harvest of 170 thousand pounds by 16 permit holders.” :27
A typical dockside price for Southeast tanner this season was around three dollars a pound, which is up about forty cents from last year. That put the total value of the catch at just over three million dollars, which is about 30 percent higher than last year. About 7 percent of this year’s tanner was graded as bitter crab, which is one percent more than last year. The condition makes the meat worthless and the highest percentage of bitter crab came from Lynn Canal this year.
Meanwhile Southeast crabbers continue fishing for golden king crab, which also opened in mid-February. The fleet is allowed a total of 625 thousand pounds this year, though the state manages each fishing area with a separate guideline harvest level. About 40 percent of the total harvest comes from the East Central Area which includes waters closest to Petersburg. That portion of the fishery closed after a week, but six other golden crab areas remain open. Stratman says the East Central area went fast.
“Catch rates were above average. We had 19 vessels participating so effort was high. On the second full day of hauling, we had a harvest in East Central that exceded 50 thousand pounds for that one day so the fishery went for six and a half days. It went very quickly,” says Stratman.
He says catch rates have been average in the Northern Management area which is closer to Juneau as well as in Mid-Chatham Strait and North Stephens passage. He says Icy Straits has been below average but stable. Fewer than three permit holders have been fishing in the lower-Chatham Strait and Southern management areas, so Stratman says that harvest data is confidential for now.
Buyers have been paying over 7 dollars a pound for golden crab on average. That’s up nearly a quarter from last season’s average price.