Veteran fisheries biologist John Hilsinger is the new science advisor for the Aleutian King Crab Research Foundation, filling the post vacated when former Alaska Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd became executive director of the North Pacific Research Board.
Golden king crab, says Hilsinger, are Alaska’s most unique crab fishery.
Surveys to evaluate the Aleutian crab resource have been very limited due to the location of the fishery and the expense of such research. The fishery has been sustained for more than 30 years, with a fixed harvest cap of six million pounds annually. Crabbers have long felt that the catch could be higher and still sustainable.
Foundation president Rip Carlton, a veteran golden king crab fisherman from Bend, Oregon, said the harvesters want improved research and stock assessments of this fishery, which Carlton said is valued at $20 million to $30 million.
Carlton said the foundation, which is self funded, met with members of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game during the recent Fish Expo in Seattle and hopes to work with ADF&G and the National Marine Fisheries Services to find out more about golden king crab in the Aleutians.
Among the fisheries scientists working with the foundation are Bob Foy of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Kodiak, and marine fisheries scientist Chris Siddon of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The fishery, in which five vessels currently participate, is open from Aug. 15 to May 15. Harvesters deliver to Unisea Seafoods, Westward Seafoods, Trident Seafoods and Bering Fisheries. Crew on these vessels are using big web pots that allow small crab to escape, and being very careful with crab they bring on board, in an effort to improve stock size, he said. Working last year with ADF&G, the fishermen used small web pots and came up some 200 to 300 small crab and 30 to 40 legal size golden king crab per pot, a strong indication of the health of the stock, Carlton said. Now the foundation is talking with state and federal fisheries officials and trying to figure out what other helpful data can be gleaned from the commercial fishery to better understand its potential.