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Record-low quota caught as Bering Sea Tanner crab season wraps up

Courtesy of Alaska Department of Fish and Game

The fishing season has ended for Bering Sea Tanner crab. Crabbers caught the record-low quota of two million pounds just before the end of March.

Seventeen vessels went out for tanner across the fishery’s east and west districts, said Ethan Nichols, the assistant area management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Unalaska.

“Some boats caught their quota in the fall. Some caught it in the spring,” said Nichols. “Overall, the fishery performance was pretty good.”

Nichols said the average size of the crab caught was smaller than in seasons past. That could be because buyers agreed to accept crab they would’ve previously turned away.

“Vessels were targeting and retaining crabs that were smaller than the industry-preferred size of five inches, but still perfectly legal to retain,” said Nichols. “And that was somewhat to make up for the lack of snow crab coming out of the Bering Sea.”

The snow crab fishery was closed this year for the first time in its history. After a drastic drop in population, the stock has been declared “overfished.” The red king crab fishery was also canceled this season, for the second year in a row, due to a low and struggling population.

The Bering Sea crab fleet has been hit hard between those closures and the low tanner quota, and state officials have sought federal disaster relief.

As for next season, Nichols said results from an upcoming federal trawl survey this summer will help determine how the crab populations are doing — and whether any of the fisheries will be able to open.

Meanwhile, the Makushin/Skan Bay section of the smaller Eastern Aleutian tanner crab fishery opened over the winter for the first time in five years.

One vessel participated in the commercial fishery off Unalaska Island, catching about 49,000 pounds of crab, said Nichols.

He said there are signs that the section’s tanner population is doing well. When it was surveyed last year, the stock had nearly doubled since 2021, reaching its highest level since 2005.

“So we’re seeing increases in abundance in the Makushin/Skan Bay section over the last several years,” said Nichols. “And we’re optimistic that we might be able to have small fisheries for next year, as well.”

Nichols said results from an upcoming state trawl survey will help determine whether the section will open again next season.

The Eastern Aleutian fishery also has two other sections — Unalaska/Kalekta Bay and Akutan — that remained closed this winter. Nichols said those sections haven’t opened in at least a decade because the stocks don’t have enough mature male crab to allow for commercial fishing.

Sofia was born and raised in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. She’s reported around the U.S. for local public radio stations, NPR and National Native News. Sofia has a Master of Arts in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism from the University of Montana, a graduate certificate in Documentary Studies from the Salt Institute and a Bachelor of Arts in Studio Arts from the University of Colorado Boulder. In between her studies, Sofia was a ski bum in Telluride, Colorado for a few years.
Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019. We are proud to have her back in the spring of 2023 filling in as an interim reporter for KUCB.
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  • There’s going to be a Tanner crab season in the Eastern Aleutians for the first time in five years, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. And while that’s great news for the fishery, only one section of the district will open — Makushin/Skan Bay, on the western side of Unalaska Island. The other two sections — Unalaska/Kalekta Bay and Akutan — will remain closed.
  • Bering Sea snow crab will close for the first time in the fishery’s history. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced Monday afternoon that snow crab — also known as opilio crab — and Bristol Bay red king crab would not open for the upcoming fall and winter fishing seasons. Miranda Westphal, an area management biologist for ADF&G, said stocks are just too low to justify opening either fishery. “All of our crab stocks in the Bering Sea have seen declines the last few years,” Westphal said. “[For] red king crab, we've been seeing declines for a little over a decade now. We just see very little recruitment coming into the population — not a lot of crab maturing into a fishable size. And so we're just seeing more of that this year.”