The Bering Sea crab fleet was ready to head to the fishing grounds over the weekend after the government shutdown and unissued licenses stalled the Oct. 15 start of the crab season. Skippers of the 80 boats estimated the extra time tied up in Dutch Harbor cost them each $1,000 per day.
Meanwhile, the situation was even worse for small boat crabbers at Kodiak and the Westward region, who learned there would not even be a Tanner fishery come January.
“It is not unexpected,” said Mark Stichert, a shellfish biologist at Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak. “We’ve been seeing a decline in abundance of legal sized or mature male Tanner crab for the last couple of years.”
The closure affects Tanner crab fisheries at Kodiak, Chignik and the South Peninsula. Stichert said the stocks have seemed to follow an up and down pattern since the late 1990s.
“Beginning in 2006/2007, we saw large recruitment of juvenile Tanner crab, and those crab subsequently matured into the population and into the commercial fishery beginning in 2009 through 2011,” Stichert said. “We had a couple of pretty large years and now those crab are aging out of the population. That’s what has led the decline and resulted in closures for next year.”
Those years produced region-wide catches of three to more than four million pounds; last January the harvest was less than one million pounds. The mid-January fishery is worth several million dollars to the coastal communities. Up to 40 Kodiak boats dropped pots for Tanners and 25 at the Peninsula during the 2013 season. Chignik has been closed for two years.
Looking ahead, Stichert said there is a mix of good and bad news.