Dungeness crab are commercially harvested in Southeast Alaska in two fisheries the summer and fall. (Photo courtesy of ADFG)

The commercial fishery for Dungeness crab in Southeast Alaska was cut short in 2017 because harvests were low. 2018, however, has proven to be one of the best years in the last decade. From KFSK in Petersburg, Angela Denning reports:

It takes a while to compile all the data from Southeast’s Dungeness crab fishery. The fall fishery closed November 30 for the most part but a few areas remain open and data is still coming in.

But the major areas were fished for two months and preliminary results are pretty positive. The Dungeness fishery targets males that are at least four years old and 2018 saw a lot of those crab available to catch.

Tessa Bergmann is a crab biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Petersburg. She says fishermen caught 1.07 million pounds of Dungeness crab in the fall fishery. That’s better than the ten-year average of 705,000 pounds.

“This fall was good,” she said. “It was productive.”

This past fall’s harvest is also only the fourth season to break a million pounds in the last twelve years.

There was good fishing effort with 107 permit holders selling crab region-wide. That’s about 20 more permits than the previous year. But it’s kind of comparing apples and oranges. Dungeness fishing was cut short in 2017 because harvests were coming in below average. The summer season was shortened by three weeks and the fall was opened one month instead of two.

2018 was a different story. Adding the fall and summer fisheries together, the harvest was 4.08 million pounds. That’s the second highest harvest in the past decade and better than managers had predicted. The prices paid to fishermen ranged from $2.22 a pound to $8 a pound for catcher-sellers or fishermen selling their own crab. The overall fall price averaged $3.05 a pound. That’s just a few cents more than the summer’s average price. The total value of the fall season was worth just over $3 million. Adding that to the summer’s value and it jumps to $12.2 million.

“I guess the takeaway would just be that this season was above the ten year average, for the fall, which is great,” Bergmann said.

The top harvests and fishing efforts in the fall fishery came in three districts: 11, 6, and 8. District 11 including Stephens Passage near Juneau in the northern area saw the highest harvest at 457,000 pounds. Eighteen permit holders fished there, the third highest participation in the region. District 6 which includes the Wrangell Narrows and Duncan Canal near Petersburg and part of Sumner Straight saw 121,000 pounds. It also had the highest effort with 29 permit holders fishing. District 8 including Frederick Sound near Petersburg and Wrangell and the Stikine River mouth saw 106,000 pounds. It had the second highest fishing effort with 23 permits.

State managers rely on Dungeness harvest data to help set future harvests goals. They don’t conduct any surveys or assessments on the species.

The southern districts one and two and part of 13-B remain open to Dungeness fishing through February.

The next crab fishery in Southeast is for Tanner and Golden King crab, which opens February 12.