Market Demand Looking Strong for Snow Crab Harvest

Alaska’s 2013-2014 snow crab fishery, which got an early start late last year with harvesters trying to avoid sea ice, harvested 54 percent of its 53,983,000 quota through mid-February, with no sea ice problems.

“It’s been really warm and the ice is up around St. Matthew,” said Melissa Good, an assistant area biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Dutch Harbor. St. Matthew, a remote island in the Bering Sea, lies 183 miles west-northwest of Nunivak Island.

The 59 vessels registered for the individual fishing quota fishery, which had harvested 55 percent of its 48,584,700-pound quota as of Feb. 11. Harvesters for Alaska’s community development quota groups had harvested 45 percent of their 5,398,300-pound quota.

At the same time a year ago, crews had harvested 27 million pounds of IFQ snow crab, or opilio, which was 29 percent of the 59.7 million pound IFQ quota. After stock surveys, this year’s quota was reduced by 19 percent.

The snow crab is being processed by Trident Seafoods at St. Paul and Akutan, and Unisea Seafoods, and Westward Seafoods in Dutch Harbor.

While price negotiations were not expected until after the harvest was completed, likely in May, industry spokesmen said there appeared to be a strong market for this year’s supply.

“We’re expecting higher prices because of the quota, the world supply and market demand,” said Jake Jacobson of the Intercoop Exchange in Seattle. “The demand is very strong this year and we are looking at a price increase.”

Last year harvesters with the Intercoop Exchange were paid an average of $2.28 a pound for their snow crab.

Eric Donaldson of The Crab Broker’s office in Florida said he agreed that prices are strong right now, but cautioned that some buyers would be waiting for the harvest in the huge snow crab fishery in eastern Canada, a primary producer for domestic markets.