Alaska has dozens of crab species—about seven that are commercial harvested. So what’s Tanner crab like? To help answer that question, I asked Joe Stratman, the lead crab biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Southeast. He says Tanners are related to the popular snow crab.
“What I always liken it to is when they’re at the buffet line in Los Vegas they often see snow crab which is a kind of Chionoecetes opilio. Our Tanner crab in Southeast looks very similar to that. It’s a little larger,” Stratman said.
Recent markets seem to like Tanner crab too. Last year’s harvest in Southeast was valued at nearly $3 million dollars. 74 permit holders participated in the fishery. They brought in a total of just over 1.3 million pounds.
The price per pound averaged $2.23 which is thirty cents higher than the year before.
Harvests the last two years have been strong and managers believe that this year should be pretty good too.
The state estimates there will be about five million pounds of mature male Tanner crab this season, which is what the fishery targets. That’s down from the nearly 5.7 million last year but still a healthy number.
The length of the Tanner fishery will depend on the number of pots that are registered. Simply put, the more pots, the fewer days the fleet has to fish. Last year, the fishery was open for a week in the main areas.
Tanner stocks in Southeast have been surveyed annually by the state for about 20 years and it’s shown that the population does have its ups and downs.
“What we see in the harvest is fluctuating harvest,” Stratman said. “They were high in the late 90s, diminished somewhat in the 2000s and then starting in the last few years we seem to see things swing up again.”
The Tanner fishery happens at the same time as the golden king crab fishery but they are very different.
Golden kings are not abundant in Southeast…at least right now. The maximum harvest managers want to see this year is only 105,000 pounds. That’s the smallest harvest goal in the last couple of decades.
The fishery is managed in seven areas and each one has catch numbers managers do not want to exceed.
Harvests in recent years have been on a decline and biologists are concerned.
“It’s hard to know exactly why,” Stratman said. “I think there’s likely a lot of factors that play into the decline in fishery performance that we’ve seen over the last four or five years.”
Harvests for six of the seven areas will be reduced this year. Stratman says they will monitor the fishery and close areas if needed… like they did last year. The harvest ended up being 77,000 pounds with 21 permit holders participating.
It’s hard for biologists to understand the decline of golden king crab in Southeast because they have little information to go on, relying on harvest data and port samples during the fishery.
And golden kings are a little trickier species. They don’t reproduce on an annual cycle like other crab. It’s more like every 20 months. Commercial crabbing coincides with the Tanner fishery not according to the crab’s life cycle.
“So the fishery itself is not really structured around life history events because there’s a lot that isn’t known on the life history of golden king crab in Southeast,” Stratman says.
Still the regional golden king crab fishery is worth money to a few dozen fishermen. Last year it was valued at about $870,000 dollars. The last few years it’s brought around $11 per pound.
So for the time being the state will continue to hold conservative limits on the fishery with hopes that the population will grow stronger.