Bristol Bay Red King Crab Harvest Shows Average Weight of 7.1 Pounds

The 2019 Bristol Bay red king crab fishery has wrapped up with quota of 3,797,000 pounds with an average catch per unit effort (CPUE) of 15.6 crab in a pot and 7.1 pounds, the highest average weight per crab dating back to 1973.

“We’ve seen average weight increasing for several years now, which is a little concerning,” said Ethan Nichols, the state’s assistant area management biologist for the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands. “We think we are fishing on the same group of adult male crab who are a year older and heavier.”

Biologists are seeing many recruits of small crab coming into the system, “but if we had a better mix of small crab, we would see a lower average weight,” he explained. “What is coming in is mostly large older males.”

The catch per unit effort also was a concern, as it compared with a CPUE of 20 in the last two seasons. The CPUE in 2019 was the lowest since crab rationalization went into effect in 2005, Nichols said.

Bottom fish in general, including Pacific cod and skate, will prey on small juvenile red king crab, so likely part of the predation is from bottom fish, but biologists have also noted very high bottom temperatures and think changes in the environment may affect the crab. Nichols said there is a lot of uncertainty around the impact of climate change in the Bering Sea on crab biomass.