Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Norton Sound Winter Crabbers Challenged to Find Buyers

Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) managers at Nome have decided to go ahead with the Norton Sound winter commercial red king crab fishery, but harvesters will have to find their own markets before the fishery opens on Saturday, Feb. 29.

The usual major buyer, Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. (NSEDC), announced earlier this month that it would not purchase crab from that fishery, because of conservation concerns.

Still the North Pacific Fishery Management Council had set the preliminary harvest rate of legal male biomass of 2.43 million pounds, to allow for a total commercial guidelines harvest level of 170,100, so harvesters were told that if they registered for catcher-seller or other direct marketing permits they could fish.

Crab pots in the winter commercial crab fishery must be set through the ice. ADF&G advised that while the cold weather this year has resulted in thicker ice than usual, caution is always advised. Good luck, good crabbing and be safe out there,” they told the crabbers.

The unusual challenge of harvesters being required to find their own buyers came after the board of NSEDC advised ADF&G in early February that it would not be purchasing the crab from the fishery and urged the state agency to close the fishery for 2020 to preserve crab stocks.

The NSEDC board decision came after Charlie Lean, of the Northern Norton Sound ADF&G advisory committee told the board that a decline in reproduction of Norton Sound red king crab stocks is anticipated. NSEDC is one of several community development quota entities established under a state of Alaska program to boost the economies of coastal communities by giving them allocations of a percentage of annual allowable catch of groundfish and shellfish.

The NSEDC board was concerned when Lean said that trawl surveys can’t find male crab and that commercial and subsistence crabbers can’t find male crab either.

NSEDC noted that last year harvesters caught 82,335 pounds of crab in the combined winter and summer commercial fisheries compared with an average harvest of more than 460,000 pounds the five previous years. Some harvesters last year reported fishing in a 100-mile area and not finding any crab or breaking even financially for the season.

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