NPFMC Requests Analysis on Impact of Expanding Red King Crab Savings Area

A worker with a giant crab in the Bering Sea. File photo by Marissa Bush, courtesy of Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

Closure of the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery, coupled with an 88% slash in the snow crab quota has prompted the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to explore ways to help restore crab fisheries to robust abundance. But it’s a lengthy process

During its October meeting, held virtually because of the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, the council voted to request an analysis on likely impacts of expanding the red king crab savings area through emergency rule to expand its northern boundary.

Jamie Goen, executive director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, said that while the analysis is a necessary part of the process she is concerned about the timing.

“I am pleased that the council is moving forward with action to help the crab,” she said. “My only concern is the timing of bringing the analysis forward in time to protect the crab by Jan. 20,” which is the day the groundfish fisheries begin.

“It is an insurance policy to protect the crab where we know they are and because they are such a conservation concern right now, and we know the trawl gear is impacting the crab,” she added.

Chris Woodley, executive director of the Groundfish Forum, offered a different perspective.

“In the bigger picture, we believe that fixed closures areas are not the best approach to reduce bycatch of prohibited species that are moving in response to changing environmental conditions,” Woodley said. “Measures like rolling hot spots are more responsive and better-suited to times when environmental conditions are rapidly changing.”

Once the council has the analysis in hand, said Woodley, “we will continue to urge them to include measures to control the largest source of RKC mortality in the Bering Sea, which is the Bering Sea cod pot fishery.”

Jim Stone, who is a member of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers and the Bering Sea pot cod coop, told the council that the large amount of king crab bycatch by the pot cod fleet for the past five years or so could have been completely avoided by not fishing on the king crab grounds.

“In normal years, fishing there with the associated bycatch is irresponsible. In the king crab closure years, it is absolutely unbelievable to me,” he remarked. Stone recommended that the council proceed at a minimum with an emergency closure to pot cod fishing in the near shore no trawl area and red king crab savings area.

“A voluntary standdown on the red king crab savings area is not enough,” he said. “It must be on all king crab bottom. This bycatch problem also highlights the need for a pot cod catch share program, with strong bycatch limits to encourage avoidance of all species of low abundance.”