The Bering Sea snow crab season opens this weekend. But thanks to drastic quota drop, fishermen will be limited to less than half of last year's harvest.
It's been bad news across the board for commercial crabbers in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands.
In addition to the snow crab cut, managers have canceled the region's tanner fishery and continued closures in the Pribilof and Saint Matthew Islands.
"It's sort of a theme this season," said Miranda Westphal, the area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "Everything's just kind of below threshold, and we're not seeing a whole lot of recruitment right now."
Westphal said all species are showing low numbers of juvenile crab, just as they have for the last several seasons. While that's disappointing, she said it's not surprising, given recent environmental trends.
"It's still really warm in Bristol Bay and the crab tend to seek colder waters," she said. "So I think it's probably temperature-related with the regime the ocean's in right now."
But not everybody buys that explanation.
After the tanner stock fell short of the minimum threshold by nearly two million pounds, the Bering Sea Crabbers Association sent an emergency petition to the Alaska Board of Fisheries last month.
The petition questioned the accuracy of the summer trawl survey and the conservative management strategy, which some say relies too much on female biomass.
The Cities of Unalaska and St. Paul signed the petition, which was denied. But Westphal said the tanner crab closure makes sense after last year's stock assessment.
"The females were at the threshold — just barely above that closure threshold," she said. "So this season, we expected — if things hadn't turned around — that it would close. And it did."
Managers have also closed the blue king crab seasons for the St. Matthew and Pribilof Islands.
St. Matthew's up-and-down fishery missed the cut-off by just 88,000 pounds, despite opening the last two seasons.
Meanwhile, the Pribilof fishery will remain closed for the 18th year in a row. After crashing in the late 1980s, Westphal said that blue king crab stock is still struggling enormously, with less than one million pounds in the water.
"The population was considered overfished, and it's just failed to rebound," she said. "It's kind of heartbreaking."
The Bering Sea snow crab fishery opens Saturday at noon. The harvest is capped at just 21.5 million pounds.