Dungeness crab. Photo – Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The commercial Dungeness crab fall season in Southeast Alaska was shortened to protect the species. But as Angela Denning report, the harvest came in better than managers expected.

The summer season for Dungeness crab didn’t go so well. In fact, it was the lowest harvest in over 30 years and managers ended up closing the fishery three weeks early. The summer season brought in 1.3 million pounds, less than half the average harvest.

With such a poor summer, state regulation required the fall season for Dungeness crab be shortened to 30 days, half the length of the normal fishery for most of Southeast.

So, when the numbers came in, managers were surprised that harvests were not low. Joe Stratman is Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s lead crab biologist for Southeast.

“We exceeded our expectations which is encouraging,” Stratman said.

The fall harvest ended up at 469,000 pounds from 84 permit holders. That’s more than last year’s full-length harvest, by about 44,000 pounds. And that’s with 31 less permit holders.

“I think what’s also encouraging is that this fall’s harvest exceeded last fall’s harvest where we had two month seasons in most areas and some areas with five month seasons with actually fewer permits fishing,” Stratman said.

If you add the fall harvest to the summer harvest, it adds up to 1.91 million pounds. That’s about 230,000 pounds more than managers expected.

Stratman says it’s hard to know what the fall harvest will mean for the future of the Dungeness fishery but he has a positive outlook.

“In talking to permit holders, what people are seeing is a lot of pre-recruit crab or crab that appear to be one molt away from entering the fishery,” he said. “And we think that the male molt, while there’s a pretty big range on when that occurs, anywhere from February to early July, so we think that a lot of these pre-recruit crab that people were seeing this fall will be legal crab next year.”

In other words, fisherman saw many crab that were almost legal-size, which would likely be large enough to keep next year.

The price for fall Dungeness crab averaged $2.80 per pound, 30 cents less than the summer season price.

The largest fall harvests came from District 2, which includes waters on Eastern Prince of Wales Island, where just over 76,000 pounds of Dungeness were harvested. District 1, including waters around Ketchikan and Misty Fjords, had landings of just under 68,000 pounds. District 13, including Baranof and Chichagof Islands saw over 65,000 pounds.