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Snow crab landing in Bering Sea

January 19th | Jim Paulin Print this article   Email this article  

The Bering Sea opilio snow crab fishery is slowly moving forward, with 2 percent of the quota landed. Eight vessels made nine landings for a total weight in the past week of some 471,000 pounds, from a quota of 18.5 million pounds, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Unalaska.

The number of snow crab per pot is down somewhat from the same period last year. The most recent count was 201 crustaceans last week, down from 238 last year, according to Fish and Game.

"From talking to the fleet, it's been a slow start for the boats that are out there opie fishing," said state fisheries biologist Ethan Nichols.

But it's likely to pick up, said a crab industry representative, Jake Jacobsen, of the Intercooperative Exchange, which negotiates prices for the fishing vessels. He reports "not 100 percent effort on the opilio yet." Many vessels are now harvesting Tanner crab, or catching Pacific cod in pots, he said.

"There's some guys that are on the crab, and there's some guys that aren't. So it will take a little time getting dialed in," Jacobsen said.

Most of the snow crab deliveries were made in St. Paul, to Trident Seafoods' processor in the Pribilof Islands, Nichols said, and unlike some past very cold years, "sea ice is not even remotely a concern at this point.

The little 1.3-pound-average opilio or "opies" are termed snow crab for marketing reasons.

Jacobsen said the fleet normally starts fishing northern shares of crab under the rationalization program, which must be delivered in the Pribilofs. Even if there's not an ice problem now, in a few weeks that might change, he said. One year, the ice was so thick that the crabbers hired a tugboat to break through the harbor in St. Paul.

Soon, Jacobsen expects, deliveries of snow crab will start crossing the docks in Unalaska and Akutan and other ports.

Meanwhile, boats harvesting Tanner crab were most of the way through their quota last week with 42 landings by 19 vessels for 1.7 million pounds, 68 percent of the quota of 2.5 million, according to ADF&G.

And there's a lot more Tanners showing up in the pots compared to two years ago, when it was last fished. This year, the cumulative crab per pot average is 81 animals, compared to 47 Tanners in 2015-16. Last year was closed for controversial conservation reasons, and is only allowed now following a major lobbying effort by crabbers and Bering Sea communities.

"There's a lot of Tanners out there. It's been really good fishing for Tanners," Jacobsen said. "We should have gotten a lot bigger quota."

The quotas for crab and cod are both down significantly, and many boats catch both the shellfish and finfish with pots, which are 700-pound-average webbed steel traps set on the sea bottom. Yet one crab fisherman saw a bright spot in the decline in Pacific cod. Since the voracious cod eat young crab, a cod decline could boost future crab quotas, he hoped.


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