Commercial harvesters were understandably excited when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced an allowable harvest of 88 million pounds of Bering Sea snow crab this year, up from 54 million pounds in 2011.
That’s some 80 million pounds for individual fishing quota permit holders, and 8.9 million pounds for community development quota groups. Then came the ice, in record amounts, slowing harvest at times almost to a standstill. Now state fisheries biologists in Dutch Harbor have extended the season through June 15 for waters west of 171 degrees west longitude in the Bering Sea.
The fishery west of 173 degrees west longitude normally is closed by regulation on May 31.
Mark Gleason, executive director of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, which represents nearly 70 percent of the harvesters in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands crab fisheries, sees opportunity there.
“Without a doubt, the unprecedented ice event in the Bering Sea this year is a natural disaster worthy of the department’s attention,” Gleason said. “The foregone harvest, and the economic calamity that would have resulted had the season extension not been granted, would have adversely affected not only the harvest sector, but also CDQ groups, the processing sector, and crab-dependent Alaskans communities.
Gleason estimated this week that the extended season would allow for a harvest of nearly 20 million pounds of allowed snow crab still trapped under the ice.
More good news for the crab harvesters came May 14 from the National Marine Fisheries Service, which said the snow crab fishery is stabilizing.
According to the Status of US Fisheries report for 2011 Bering Sea snow crab is among a record six fish populations declared rebuilt to healthy levels last year.
The status report also determined the golden king crab in the Pribilof Islands and the Gulf of Alaska shallow water flatfish complex were not overfished. The status of both of those stocks was previously unknown, the report said.