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Small Tanner Crab Fishery Closed For 2019, Snow Crab Quota Up 45 Percent

Zoë Sobel/KUCB

After a partial opening this year, the Eastern Aleutian District tanner crab fishery is closed for 2019. The district has three sections: Akutan, Makushin/Skan Bay, and Unalaska/Kalekta Bay.

Based on information from a recent trawl survey, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game decided to close all three sections.

While assistant area management biologist Ethan Nichols says the Akutan section was well below the stock level necessary to open the fishery, the other two sections were close.

“There’s crab in the water," Nichols said. "We were close to being able to open the fishery, but it would have been slightly aggressive on the legal male population.”

It’s too soon to predict if there will be a fishery in 2020, but Nichols is optimistic.

“The good thing is that for both Makushin and Unalaska Bay sections the size frequencies from the survey results are showing quite a few small crab – both males and females in both sections – so that’s encouraging for years to come,” Nichols said.

When open, the small fishery runs from Jan. 15 to March 31 with a few boats participating.

Over in the Bristol Bay Red King Crab fishery, the quota is 99 percent landed.

“[So far] 4.26 millon pounds been harvested," Nichols said. "We have 46,000 pounds to go.”

Nichols expects the remaining quota will be caught by one vessel before the season ends Jan. 15.

This season, the crab have been bigger than last year, averaging 7.09 pounds each. But Nichols says those larger crab come with a concern.

“One issue with the Bristol Bay Red King Crab fishery is that we’re not seeing hardly any recruitment into the fishery," Nichols said. "We’re not seeing small males that are coming into legal size.”

The Aleutians Islands Golden King Crab fisheries are also coming to a close. In the east, 94 percent of the catch or 3.6 million pounds has been landed. In the west, 88 percent of the crab or 2.2 million pounds has been landed.

For Western Bering Sea Tanner Crab, 51 percent of the quota has been landed so far. There’s still 1.1 million left to catch.

Nichols says part of the fleet decided to fish for bairdi after red king crab while other vessels are waiting to fish their tanner crab quota closer to the snow crab fishery.

“For the remaining 50 percent of the western bering sea tanner quota, we’re expecting that will be caught along with the snow crab fishery which we’re expecting to start up in ernest in the first or second week of January,” Nichols said.

The Western Bering Sea Tanner Crab fishery is open through the end of March.

For the 2018-2019 season, the Bering Sea Snow Crab quota has gone up 45 percent. This year the total allowable catch is 27.5 million pounds.

“The NOAA trawl survey picked up quite a bit more legal males and females in the summer survey and that translates to quite a big hike in the TAC for this year,” Nichols said.

The snow crab season runs from Oct. 15 through May.

Zoë Sobel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2019. She returned to KUCB after a year living in Nepal and Malaysia as a Luce Scholar. She then returned to KUCB as a ProPublica reporter August of 2020 through August of 2021.
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