Bristol Bay Red King Crab Fishery Opens After Two-Year Closure

Alaska’s Bristol Bay red king crab fishery opened on Oct. 15 after being closed for two years due to stocks not meeting minimal levels for fishing. The assigned quota was 2.15 million pounds, slightly lower than the 2020 opener quota of 2.6 million pounds.

Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers Executive Director Jamie Goen said that while members were anxious to get back on the water, they wanted to do so with minimal impact so that the crab resource remains sustainable for generations to come.

“They are tracking closely the science around the health of crab stocks and want to help crab continue to rebound,” she said. “We’re adding extra measures this season during our directed pot fishery for crab to reduce our interactions with crab. We’re increasing communication with the fleet on best handling practices, clean fishing areas and opportunities to share gear.”

The announcement from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) was cheered by long time crabber captains like Glenn Casto of the f/v Pinnacle, who called it a start in the right direction, one that would help pay bills and help out crew.

Other veteran crab captains, like Oystein Lone, and Gabriel Prout, agreed.

“It’s a needed lifeline for us to keep our businesses afloat,” said Lone, captain and owner of the f/v Confidence and f/v Pacific Mariner.

“The impacts the fleet and the stock continue to face highlights the need for state and federal managers to implement better management strategies to help protect the health of the crab population and those that rely on it,” said Prout of the f/v Silver Spray.

ADF&G set the total allowable catch (TAC) at 2.15 million pounds, including 1,935,000 pounds for individual fishing quotas (IFQ) and 215,000 pounds for community development quota (CDQ).  The fishery is to close at midnight on Jan. 15, 2024.

Participating vessels must have a valid U.S. Coast Guard commercial fisheries vessel safety decal, which is required before a vessel registration is issued. Operators of vessels participating in the IFQ or CDA fisheries must notify the Coast Guard at least 24 hours prior to department port when carrying crab pot gear, by calling (907) 581-3466 or, if after normal working hours, (907) 359-1575.

While all vessels pre-season registered for this fishery are considered selected for observer coverage, not all vessels will be required to carry an observer based on observer availability and coverage needs.

Fishermen must contact Saltwater, Inc. at (907) 539-2548 for observer coverage a minimum of 10 days prior to fishing activity. Saltwater Inc. must also be notified if a vessel was pre-season registered, but does not intend to participate in the fisheries, ADF&G said.

The Bering Sea tanner crab season also opens on Oct. 15, with a TAC of 1.32 million pounds west of 166 degrees longitude (WBT), with 1.188 million pounds for IFQ and 132,000 pounds for CDQ, and 76,000 pounds east of 166 degrees longitude (EBT), including 7684,000 pounds for IFQ and 76,000 pounds for CDQ.

The Bering Sea snow crab, Saint Matthew Island section blue king crab and Pribilof District red and blue king crab fisheries remain closed.

The Bering Sea snow crab closure, being the main stock that brings revenue to the fleet, means there will be continued hard times ahead for much of the crab industry, said Goen, who noted that the fleet is still waiting on federal fishery disaster payouts from 2019, 2021 and 2022 disasters.

Science shows a sign of life for a future fishery with increased numbers of juvenile snow crab, but those crab need several years to grow to a harvestable size, she said.