Commercial Harvest of Bering Sea Snow Crab Extended Through June 15

Commercial harvesters were understandably
excited when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced an allowable harvest
of 88 million pounds of Bering Sea snow crab this year, up from 54 million pounds
in 2011. 
That’s some 80 million pounds
for individual fishing quota permit holders, and 8.9 million pounds for community
development quota groups. Then came the ice, in record amounts, slowing harvest
at times almost to a standstill. Now state fisheries biologists in Dutch Harbor
have extended the season through June 15 for waters west of 171 degrees west longitude
in the Bering Sea.
The fishery west of 173 degrees
west longitude normally is closed by regulation on May 31.
Mark Gleason, executive director
of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, which represents nearly 70 percent of the harvesters
in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands crab fisheries, sees opportunity there.
“Without a doubt, the unprecedented
ice event in the Bering Sea this year is a natural disaster worthy of the department’s
attention,” Gleason said. “The foregone harvest, and the economic calamity that
would have resulted had the season extension not been granted, would have adversely
affected not only the harvest sector, but also CDQ groups, the processing sector,
and crab-dependent Alaskans communities.
Gleason estimated this week that
the extended season would allow for a harvest of nearly 20 million pounds of allowed
snow crab still trapped under the ice.
More good news for the crab harvesters
came May 14 from the National Marine Fisheries Service, which said the snow crab
fishery is stabilizing. 
According to the Status of US
Fisheries report for 2011 Bering Sea snow crab is among a record six fish populations
declared rebuilt to healthy levels last year.
The status report also determined
the golden king crab in the Pribilof Islands and the Gulf of Alaska shallow water
flatfish complex were not overfished. The status of both of those stocks was previously
unknown, the report said.