Dungeness crab (Photo by Angela Denning/KFSK)

The harvest for Dungeness crab in Southeast Alaska’s commercial fishing season is the second largest on record. The catch from the fall fishery added to one of the few bright spots from last year.

A few areas of Southeast’s commercial Dungeness crab season are still open through February but most areas closed at the end of November. The estimate for the fall harvest is 813,000 pounds. That’s down slightly from recent years. But the 2020 summer harvest was so large–at 5.87 million pounds–that it still makes the total season harvest the second largest ever.

“What we saw last year was a big harvest, it was a big season poundage wise,” said Joe Stratman, Southeast’s lead crab manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The total season harvest for the summer and fall fisheries is 6.68 million pounds. That’s far above the ten-year average, which is 3.28 million pounds but just under the record breaking year of 2002-03.

The total season was worth $11.49 million. That’s mainly because a lot of crab were caught. The price paid to fishermen was below recent years. The fall averaged $1.88/pound and the summer $1.70. That’s about a dollar less per pound than 2019, which averaged $2.79/pound and less than other recent years.

“Even though the price was slightly better in the fall; what we saw in summer and fall prices was down quite a bit from, the recent three seasons, anyway,” Stratman said.

Most of the Dungeness crab were caught in the summer fishery June 15–August 15, which is normal, because conditions are safer and more fishermen are participating. In the fall fishery, the main areas were open for all of October and November. There are still some fishermen crabbing in a few of areas still open but Stratman says it’s not likely that the harvests will change enough to compete with the 2002-03 record year.

Managers rely on Dungeness harvest data because they don’t do separate surveys on the species in Southeast. Harvests have been good in recent years compared to other species of crab. Commercial red king crab fishing has been closed in recent years and commercial Tanner fishing is limited to about a week a year.

But commercial fishing for Dungeness is open for four months a year in many areas and the population seems to be holding.

“I think it’s safe to say we have steady and reliable, annual recruitment into the fishery,” said Stratman. “We’ve got a steady amount of crab that are entering the fishery every year, recruit crab that are legal for the first time and we don’t have any large gaps in our recruitment.”

The Southeast area with the highest harvest in this fall’s fishery was District 12 in northern Chatham Straight [123,000 pounds]. The highest participation in the fishery was District 8 near Petersburg and Wrangell.

The next crab fisheres in Southeast are Tanner and golden king crab in mid-February.