Snow Crab Quotas Rise as Bristol Bay Red King Quotas Continue Decline

Alaska’s 2020-2021 commercial crab fisheries get underway on Oct. 15, with a total allowable catch of 45 million pounds of Bering Sea snow crab, up from 34 million pounds in 2019.

The allowable catch in the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery meanwhile has slipped from 3.4 million pounds a year ago to 2.6 million pounds for the upcoming season.

The Western Bering Sea Tanner crab fishery has a total allowable catch of 2.348 million pounds, but the Eastern Bering Sea Tanner crab fishery will remain closed.

The allowable quotas are determined each year based on stock assessment analysis of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and National Marine Fisheries Service.

Based on those analyses the Pribilof District red and blue king crab seasons, as well as the Saint Matthew Island blue king crab season will remain closed.

Right now the market is good for king crab and snow crab as well, said Jake Jacobsen, executive director of Seattle’s Inter-Cooperative Exchange, the largest cooperative of Bering Sea crab harvesters. In advance of those first harvests, Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle is advertising previously frozen Alaska king crab legs and claws for $49.99 a pound, five pounds for $279.99 and 20 pounds for $854.99.

According to Jamie Goen, executive director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, the trade association representing harvesters of king, opilio (snow) and bairdi (Tanner) crab in the Bering Sea, the big concern in this year’s crab fisheries is how to operate their businesses safely during the global novel coronavirus pandemic, to keep safe both harvesters on their fishing vessels and communities they come into. “We fish in the toughest weather, and with COVID there are additional precautions,” she said.

“We are incredibly grateful that we have fisheries we can conduct,” said Goen, adding that she is usually at Dutch Harbor at this time of the year, but in Seattle instead this year because of the pandemic.

With the snow crab and Tanner crab quotas up, and red king crab quota down, people are going to have to decide on their own whether they will fish or not, she said. Some boats owners have said they will go out even with a lower TAC (total allowable catch) to keep their crews employed.

“Once you get good crew, you want to hang on to them, especially with COVID” she said.

Other vessels owners will choose to barter, with one holding out for snow crab and another for red king crab, she said.