Federal fisheries managers have requested a December review of National Marine Fisheries Service’s analysis of an emergency rule request to prohibit pelagic trawl, pot and hook-and-line fisheries in the Red King Crab Savings Area and Subarea from Jan. 1 through June 30, 2023.
Council members said they would review the information in the analysis so that they can make an informed recommendation on the emergency rule request.
During its October meeting in Anchorage, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) declined to impose any restrictions on trawl fisheries, as requested by the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers (ABSC) and others concerned that trawling is having an adverse impact on crab abundance.
The Bristol Bay red king crab fishery subsequently was closed for a second consecutive year by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. ADF&G also closed all opilio snow and other red king crab and blue king crab seasons for 2022-2013.
The council’s 2022 Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands crab Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) report indicated that Aleutian Islands golden king crab, Pribilof Islands red king crab, Norton Sound red king crab and Eastern Bering Sea Tanner are all above stock biomass to target these species, but that Bristol Bay red king crab, Eastern Bering Sea snow crab, Pribilof Islands blee king crab and St. Matthew blue king crab are below biomass levels needed for harvests in those fisheries.
ABSC is projecting a loss of $500 million in revenue and is warning that many harvesters of crab, some of them second and third generation shellfish fishermen, now face bankruptcy and that long time crew members will be jobless.
ABSC Executive Director Jamie Goen noted that the crab fleet will have only a small bairdi crab fishery in the Bering Sea this year, of just over two million pounds.
“What the crab industry is facing is heartbreaking and what’s worse is that it is unnecessary,” Goen said. “It didn’t have to be this way.”
Goen also stated that the crab will eventually bounce back, but could have done so sooner if the NPFMC had taken step to protect stocks, as fishermen themselves had requested.
Goen also said that with many crabbers facing bankruptcy the decisions of federal and state fisheries managers to halt so many crab fisheries this year could have an impact on the 2023 commercial salmon fishing season as well.
If current crab boat owners lose their fishing vessels to bankruptcy, they won’t lease out their crab boats for tendering during salmon season, she said.
ADF&G said in a statement that the agency “appreciates and carefully considered all input from crab industry stakeholders prior to making this decision. Understanding crab fishery closures have substantial impacts on harvesters, industry and communities, ADF&G must balance these impacts with the need for long-term conservation and sustainability of crab stocks.”
Alaska Fish & Game said its staff would work with the crab industry “to evaluate options for rebuilding, including potential for sustainably fishing during periods of low abundance.”