The Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. (NSEDC) will not purchase crab from the 2023 red king crab winter commercial fishery, in what the corporation has described as a difficult decision based on concerns for the long-term health of the fishery.
While the stock appears to be rebounding, NSEDC believes a cautious approach to commercial harvests continues to be necessary to preserve the recovery, the corporation said in a statement issued in the second week of January.
NSEDC is a private nonprofit corporation, with offices in Nome and Anchorage representing 15 member communities and nearly 8,500 people in the Bering Straits region of Northwestern Alaska.
With the current mature crab stock being vital for reproduction, NSEDC officials said, a conservative harvest approach over the next few years is warranted to balance the needs of the commercial fishery with those of the crab population’s long-term health.
The hope is that this harvest strategy may allow the commercial fishery to benefit from the harvestable surplus for a longer period of time, and that the winter fishery produces additional negative impacts to the stock in the form of increased handling mortality and pot loss, officials said.
In conjunction with that decision, NSEDC and Norton Sound Seafood Products won’t sell commercial crabbing gear or commercial quantities of bait, they said.
NSEDC said a determination was expected to be made in coming weeks on how to approach the 2023 summer commercial fishery and that harvesters would be informed well in advance of the season of their decision. The corporation expressed optimism that some level of commercial harvest could again be achieved while preserving crab for reproduction and future harvest in the coming years.
Any commercial harvest of the current cohort should be conservatively managed and spread out to achieve longer-term benefits for the crab stock and the subsistence and commercial harvesters who depend on that harvest, they said.