Federal fisheries managers are seeking public comment through Sept. 23 on how to reduce fishing-related mortality for Eastern Bering Sea snow crab and Bristol Bay red king crab.
A notice published by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in the Federal Register on July 14 invites comments to be posted online at “Request for Information (RFI) – Bristol Bay Red King Crab and Eastern Bering Sea Snow Crab” (found online at www.federalregister.gov).
The National Marine Fisheries Service notified the council in October of 2021 that Eastern Bering Sea Snow crab’s status had been changed to overfished. The Eastern Bering Sea snow crab assessment showed that mature male biomass was 50,600 metric tons, less than the minimum stock size threshold of 76,700 metric tons.
Total snow crab mature male biomass has varied considerably since 1990 from a high of 626.7 kilotons to a low of 50.6 kilotons in 2021. Observed mature male biomass in the survey increased to historical highs in the 1990s, but then declined significantly later in that decade. The stock was declared overfished in 1999 after the total mature biomass dropped below the then-minimum stock size threshold.
NMFS biologists said the mature male biomass began to increase after 1999 and the stock was declared rebuilt in 2011. After that though, the stock slipped again and the observed mature male biomass at the time of the survey had dropped to an all-time low by 2021.
In recent years, mature male biomass increased as a large recruitment moved through the size classes, but that recruitment event has since disappeared and the observed mature male biomass at the 2021 survey was 506 kilotons.
NMFS biologists said this was the first time a mass mortality event appears to have occurred for snow crab since the survey began, and that the biomass of important size categories of crab is at historic lows.
The council is currently working to develop a recommended rebuilding plan, consistent with requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
The council adopted draft alternatives for analysis to establish a rebuilding plan for Eastern Bering Sea Snow crab at its June meeting. They are expected to be presented to the council at its December session in Anchorage.