Crab Tagging Project Set for Bristol Bay Red King Crab

NOAA Fisheries is teaming up with the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation to track the movement of adult male red king crabs in Bristol Bay using an unmanned surface drone made by Saildrone, Inc.

NOAA researchers hope their findings will provide information crucial to keeping red king crab sustainable as climate changes. The research will focus on finding out what habitats are essential for Bristol Bay red king crab in different seasons and whether current protected areas are effective.

The federal fisheries scientists planned to work with harvesters in June to tag crabs with acoustic devices that transmit an identification number and a bottom temperature.
Tagging is timed right after the NOAA Fisheries summer survey, so researchers will be able to target the areas where crabs are most abundant.

The research will also look at temperature information transmitted by each tag to determine how it influences crab movement. Researchers will also compare crab locations with sediment maps to identify characteristics of essential habitat.

The plan is to deploy a saildrone equipped with an acoustic receiver in October 2019 and in April 2020 to relocate the tagged crabs.

“So little is known about where crabs are and how they move,” said Scott Goodman, executive director of Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation (BSFRF) and president of Natural Resources Consultants, Inc. “We have only snapshots from summer surveys. This research will fill in the life history gaps to better inform the management of red king crab as both target and bycatch.”

“Managers need to understand where crabs go in different seasons, and what habitats are essential, to set effective rules for fishing,” said Leah Zacher, the NOAA Fisheries scientist leading the project. “Everyone benefits from increasing our knowledge of crab distributions.”

“We know where crabs are in the summer from annual NOAA Fisheries surveys, but there is little information for the rest of the year,” Zacher added. “We will relocate the crabs in the fall to understand how crabs move onto the fishing grounds, and in the spring to determine their locations when they are vulnerable to being caught as bycatch in trawl fisheries.The red king crab savings area is closed to trawling to provide a protected habitat, but the area was initially set based on limited information, and managers need to know if and when red king crabs are moving through and using those areas to know if they are effective.”

The Alaska Fisheries Science Center planned to begin posting field reports in June on the AFSC Science Blog as researchers begin tagging crabs.

Since 2005, the BSFRF has participated and led cooperative research with industry, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the National Marine Fisheries Service, to improve the science used in Bering Sea crab fisheries management. More than 95 percent of BSFRF funding comes from private industry supplemented occasionally with grants. The BSFRF is funding the saildrone used to track the tagged crab for this project.