Small Tanner Crab Fishery Closed For Conservation In Eastern Aleutians

Nov 15, 2016

Tanner crab.
Credit U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia Commons

More bad news for commercial crabbers: The Eastern Aleutian District won't open for tanner crab fishing in 2017.

The small fishery usually opens in January, with just a few boats harvesting bairdi in state waters around Unalaska and Akutan islands. 

But a recent trawl survey has forced the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) to close it, after the assessment revealed low numbers of mature males.

"It's just the way of the crab fisheries right now," said Miranda Westphal, the area management biologist for ADFG. "We're in a lull and a low point with the tanner crab fisheries."

The state has also closed the much larger Bering Sea tanner crab fishery as a result of low abundance. That population is distinct from the Eastern Aleutian stock, but Westphal said both can blame warm waters and natural cycles for the recent slump in bairdi.

All three sections of the Eastern Aleutian District will be closed next year: Akutan, Makushin/Skan Bay, and Unalaska/Kalekta Bay.

The Makushin/Skan Bay section came closest to opening, but it still missed the minimum guideline harvest level by about 40 percent.

While the closure won't affect big commercial vessels, Westphal said losing the fishery is hard on local crabbers with modest operations.

"It's a nice small fishery, it's close to home, and it's only fished during daylight hours," she said. "There'll be a couple of fishermen who are disappointed it's not opening, but there's always hope for next season."

That's because the tanner stock is showing some recruitment of juvenile crab. Westphal said the fishery could improve in the next few years as young bairdi mature.

Meanwhile, there's still a chance the Bering Sea tanner crab fishery could open for the upcoming season.

The Alaska Board of Fisheries has agreed to consider a limited quota for the western half of the fishery. The Board will make a final decision at their January meeting in Kodiak.