Fish factor: crab fishermen shaken by news of depleted stocks
Bering Sea crabbers in Alaska are reeling from the devastating news that all major crab stocks are in substantial decline, according to summer survey results, and the red king crab fishery in the Bay of Bristol will be closed for the first time in over 25 years.
This stock has been steadily declining for several years and the 2020 harvest has fallen to just 2.6 million pounds.
Most shocking was the drastic turnaround in snow crab stocks, which in 2018 showed a 60% increase in market-sized male crabs (the only ones kept for sale) and almost the same for females. That year’s survey was documented as “one of the most important snow crab recruitment events ever seen by biologists,” said Bob Foy, director of the Management Board’s crab plan team. North Pacific Fisheries.
Again in 2019, the “very high” snow crab biomass was forecast to be over 610 million pounds, and catches were set at a conservative 45 million pounds for the 2020 fishery. No survey of Bering Sea crab was only carried out that year due to the COVID pandemic, but results from 2021 indicated that the number of mature male snow crabs had fallen by 55%.
The stock “appears to have disappeared or moved elsewhere,” said Jamie Goen, executive director of the business group, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers (ABSC). The snow crab catches for the coming season could be down by 70% and the stock could be classified as “overexploited”, she said, adding that no decision will be made until the data is available. not considered more carefully by the plan team and Council scientists.
The ABSC estimates that closing the red king crab fishery and reducing snow crab catches could cost fishermen well over $ 100 million. The blow will be felt by around 70 vessels, more than 400 fishermen and the processors and fishing communities who depend on the income from the Bering Sea crab.
Crabbers want “bold action” from federal fisheries managers. They call on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Board (NPFMC) and NOAA Fisheries to conserve crab habitat and spawning grounds highlighted by scientists over 10 years ago with little resulting action.
Crab fishermen also want managers to “create significant incentives to reduce crab bycatch in other fisheries, to reduce the impacts of fishing on crab moulting and mating, and to estimate catches. Uncounted accessories from unobserved fishing mortality of bottom and pelagic (pelagic) trawls, as well as trap and longline gear.
Boats fishing in the Bering Sea must have 100% observer coverage to keep track of what’s being held up and what’s thrown overboard, but that’s what is not observed that most of them concern crabbers. And what is not seen is not taken into account in stock or bycatch assessments.
The Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary law governing the management of marine fisheries in federal waters (three to 200 miles offshore), defines unobserved mortality as “fishing mortality due to an encounter with fishing gear that does not result in the capture of fish ”.
In a February letter to NPFMC, ABSC highlighted studies showing that “95 to 99% of crabs on the way to trawl gear pass under the rope escaping capture and that part of it probably die after coming into contact with fishing gear. Given this number compared to what is observed as bycatch, the potential for unobserved crab mortality could represent millions of additional pounds of dead crab bycatch. “
A February report from scientists at the NPFMC, which proposed (unsuccessfully) an amendment to the management plan for crab bycatch in the Bering Sea groundfish trawl fisheries, said: or during sweeps, but damage from the craft results in mortality or delayed mortality due to injury. The potential for unobserved mortality of crabs that encounter bottom trawls but are not caught has long been a concern for the management of groundfish fisheries in the Bering Sea. (Witherell and Pautzke, 1997; Witherell and Woodby, 2005).
The report states that “the majority of PSC (Catches of Prohibited Species) crab caught by trawl occurs when vessels target yellowfin. This is the case for all crab species.
Yellowfin tuna is one of six species of groundfish targeted by a cooperative of 18-20 bottom trawlers called the Amendment 80 Fleet, which includes seven vessels belonging to the indigenous community development quota groups of the ‘Alaska (CDQ). No CDQ trawler has made inshore deliveries to Alaska in the past ten years.
The A80 boats, all docked in Seattle, range from 200 to over 300 feet in length and contain processing facilities. They typically fish from late January through fall and last year caught almost 300 million pounds of yellowfin worth $ 0.09 a pound.
Each of the A80 boats employs six fishing crews, around 24 processing workers and seven other staff, including officers, engineers and cooks. The NPFMC report states that 69% of the crew (not counting processing workers) reside in or near Seattle. Direct salaries paid in 2018 were $ 46 million and $ 52 million for the whole of Washington state. In contrast, Alaskan residents made up 3-8% of the A80’s crews and earned $ 2 million in direct wages.
The crab plan team is meeting September 13-16 to discuss assessments of the Bering Sea crab stocks and catches for the 2021/22 season will be announced prior to the start of the fishery on October 15. Reducing crab bycatch is not on the agenda.
The NPFMC is meeting via web conference October 6-10 to set preliminary catch and bycatch levels for 2022.
Southeastern crabbers entered an “average” dormant season for a two-and-a-half-month summer fishery that ended in mid-August.
Preliminary figures indicate that catches have reached half of last summer’s level, said Adam Messmer, deputy director of the Alaska Department of Fisheries and Game for the region.
“We’ve ended up with just over £ 3million this season, which is about our 10-year average. Last year was our second biggest year ever. We expected a little more than what we caught this year. But we had quite a few soft shell (freshly molted) crabs in early summer. This explains the missed weight, ”he said.
The six million pound Dungie 2020 take was valued at nearly $ 10 million at the docks.
Despite a lower catch this summer, the two-pound harvest was worth much more to the fleet of 205 license holders.
Yes, that was our highest price ever, averaging $ 4.27 a pound. This resulted in a fishery of almost $ 13 million. This therefore represents approximately $ 63,000 per license, ”added Messmer.
Southeastern crabbers have another chance when the Dungeness fishery reopens on October 1.
Dungeness pot dropping is underway around Kodiak and the Western region until the end of October. About 1.5 million pounds is likely to be the tally for 20 Kodiak boats, down about a million from last year. But the outlook is quite optimistic, said Nat Nichols, regional director of ADF & G.
“Here at Kodiak, it’s been three straight seasons of over a million pounds. And I’ve heard reports that there’s a lot of crab action going on and there’s a lot of crab that’s just a little short of the stick. So that kind of gives optimism for next year, ”he said, adding that fishermen also encounter a lot of soft-shell crabs that are released.
Over 415,000 pounds of Dungies have been hauled in Chignik and fishermen on the Alaskan Peninsula make the best catch in the region, now at 1.3 million pounds. The price westward is $ 4.35 per pound on average.
As of September 11, the Alaskan salmon catch reached 219 million fish, well above the forecast of 190 million.
The roses have increased the number with a total harvest to date of almost 151 million. Almost 65 million came from Prince William Sound and over 45 million bumps were harvested in the South East and over 26 million at Kodiak. The statewide catch of sockeye had exceeded 54 million; chums were approaching 11.5 million, coho 2.1 million and 243,000 chinook had crossed the docks so far