Tanner crab are measured by the ADF&G in Petersburg. (Photo courtesy of ADF&G)

Southeast’s Tanner crab fishermen saw a strong and valuable harvest this winter and there is reason to believe the fishery won’t be slowing down in the future. KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:

The Tanner fishery began on February 10 with a week long season in the most popular fishing areas. State managers are still crunching numbers but the preliminary harvest is 1.2 million pounds. That’s 210,000 pounds more than last year, also a strong year.

Managers were not surprised with the harvest outcome. Southeast Tanner harvests in recent years have been good. The commercial fishery is considered a stable one with surveys showing consistent growth in the population.

Joe Stratman is Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s lead crab biologist for Southeast.

“We were expecting a good harvest this year,” Stratman said. “And though it wasn’t the highest harvest ever it was the fifth highest in the last 15 seasons.”

But perhaps the most remarkable thing about this year’s fishery was the value, which was $3.68 million at the docks. The average price for Tanner was $3.07 a pound, 37 cents more than last year.

“In terms of total ex-vessel value, the fishery this year was the highest valued fishery we’ve seen since the 1998-1999 season. So almost 20 years,” Stratman said.

Several factors go into the price but it’s heavily influenced by the economy in Japan, which is one of Southeast’s main markets for Tanner.

Bitter crab is also a factor but it didn’t drop the price that much. Bitter crab is caused by a parasite that infects the crab and makes it taste bad. The amount of bitter crab this year was at nine percent, the same as last year and pretty average. Without bitter crab and soft-shelled crab, the dock price was about $3.40 a pound.

Stratman says crab that are caught in inside waters generally have more of the parasite.

“It’s interesting that where we see this issue with bitter crab we tend to also see some of the largest harvest total so I think it’s something that’s always present in the population,” Stratman said. “Within Southeast there seems to be some consistency where as to it’s found every year.”

Like District 11 near Juneau. The area had about 14 percent bitter crab, but it also had just a lot of crab.

“In District, 11, we saw the largest harvest by far,” Stratman said.

District 11 includes places like Seymour Canal, Snettisham, Holkam Bay, and the back side of Douglas Island, areas which had looked promising in last year’s surveys. The district brought in nearly half of the fishery’s total harvest, 510,000 pounds by 26 permits.

District 14, which includes Icy Straight, Glacier Bay, and Excursion Inlet brought in 310,000 pounds by 17 permit holders. District 10, which includes Frederick Sound and its bays and inlets brought in 170,000 pounds by 18 permit holders.

There was no harvest in districts 1 through 5 in the southern areas of Southeast, which Stratman says is typical. Most of the crabbing happens in the northern and central parts of Southeast.

There is every reason to believe that next year’s Tanner fishery should also do well. Stratman says there were a lot of pre-recruit male crab seen, those that are getting close to legal size for the fishery.

“We don’t make any projections for future seasons but we see that every year,” Stratman said. “We see crab moving into the fishery every year. We see that recruitment and so that is encouraging.”

The recent ten year average harvest for Southeast Tanner is 1.03 million pounds.

Meanwhile, another fishery that started at the same time–the golden king crab fishery–is ongoing in some areas. Managers are looking for a total regional harvest of just 70,000 pounds. As of March 13, there were about 20,000 pounds landed by 13 permit holders.

The region is divided into six areas and each area has their own harvest goals. Some of those areas have reached their goals and others have not. The northern area was closed early because of poor harvests.

The average price for golden king this year is $10.10 a pound.