While commercial salmon fisheries in Southeast are looking to be a bust this year, that’s not the case for Dungeness crab. The summer season’s harvest ended up being the second highest on record. However, the value of the fishery was not near a record breaker.
The commercial season for Dungeness crab ran for two months, June 15 to August 15. Fishermen brought in a 5.81 million pounds of crab.
Joe Stratman leads crab management in Southeast for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
“What was taken this summer is more than double the previous ten year average,” he said.
The summer harvest was so good that it’s higher than nearly all other full-season harvests, which also includes the fall and winter fisheries, except for the record year, 2002-2003.
Managers knew that it was going to be a good season after the first week. Fishermen had already brought in 1.51 million pounds, which was a record.
“This is the largest harvest on record for the first seven days of the fishery,” Stratman said.
By comparison, the average harvest during the first week in the past decade has been 772,000 pounds.
There were also more fishermen than usual participating in the fishery this summer with 192 permit holders fishing. The ten-year average is 147 permits.
Even though the summer harvest of Dungeness crab was the second highest on record, the value of the fishery was less than many other years. This summer, the average price was $1.67 per pound. That’s about a dollar less per pound than the ten-year average price ($2.70 per pound).
The total value of this summer’s fishery was $9.81 million. That’s about three million less than last year, which had an average price of $3.01 per pound.
Stratman says it was still a good value year but it could have been far better if prices were closer to normal.
“Total value-wise, it exceeds the previous ten-year average due to the fact that the harvest poundage was so high but the average price of a $1.67 this year is less than the 10-year average.”
The state doesn’t track individual weights of Dungeness crab but Stratman says fishermen reported crab were high quality this summer.
“I have heard, anecdotally from fishermen, that individual weight on the crab and crab size was larger than usual,” Stratman said. “By every indication, I heard that crab quality was quite good.”
The waters near Petersburg and Wrangell—in District 8– saw the largest harvest at just over 1.23 million pounds. The area also had the highest participating with 75 permits. District 10 including Frederick Sound and associated bays and inlets saw the second largest harvest at 957,000 pounds. The third highest harvest was 898,000 pounds in District 11, which includes Stephens Passage and associated bays and inlets. District 10 had the second highest participation at 46 permits. Sumner Straight and its bays and inlets had the third highest participation with 42 permits fishing.
With the summer season ending close to the record, managers predict that the full season has a chance of breaking the record. Using figures from the start of the season, they estimate a total season harvest of 6.61 million pounds. To break the record, it has to surpass 7.3 million pounds from the year 2002-2003.
“It’s possible,” Stratman said.
The fall and winter Dungeness fisheries typically produce 20-25 percent of the total season’s harvest. The fall season opens on October 1 for all of Southeast. Most of the region will close November 30.