Alaska crabbers gearing up for fall Bering Sea fisheries

Fishermen still waiting on final payouts from last season


Boats are already signing up to participate in fall Bering Sea crab fisheries that begin October 1. Meanwhile, many crabbers are still awaiting word on what their pay outs are for last season.

Prior to the crab fisheries changing from “come one, come all” to a catch share form of management in 2005 prices were set before boats headed out, said Jake Jacobsen, director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange which negotiates prices for most of the fleet.

“Since then the price is based on the historical division of revenues and there is a formula that is applied to sales. It takes a long time for sales to be completed to the point where we know or can predict what the final wholesale prices will be, and then we can apply the formula to it,” he explained.

Prices to fishermen were down a bit from last year but historically very high, Jacobsen said. For snow crab and bairdi Tanners, which typically are hauled up after the start of each year, prices were just settled and won’t be made public for another week.

“Most of the snow crab and bairdi prices were over $4 a pound, so that’s very good,” he hinted.

According to processor data, last season’s average snow crab price was $4.07 a pound; Tanner crab averaged $3.33. For golden king crab, fishermen averaged $5.51 per pound.

For Bristol Bay red king crab, the price averaged $9.20 a pound last year, down from the record $10.18 in 2016.

Heading into the fall, Jacobsen said the price outlook is good.

“We expect king crab to be very high this year. There is quite a bit of demand throughout the world and it’s in short supply,” he said, adding that a huge reduction in illegally caught crab imports from Russia has helped boost the market for Alaska crab.

Right now stakeholders are “on pins and needles” that crab stock surveys underway now will yield good news for the 2018/2019 season crab catches, which have been on a downward trend for several years.

“Based on last year’s surveys it looks like we might have another decline in snow crab and we’re not sure about red king crab as it was kind of on the margin last year,” Jacobsen said. “With Tanners, we never know. If we can get some good quotas it should be a good year,”

Last season’s catch limit for Bristol Bay red king crab was 6.6 million pounds, down 20 percent. For golden king crab the quota has remained stable at 6.3 million pounds. The snow crab catch quota at 19 million pounds was a 12 percent decline. For bairdi Tanners, a catch of just 2.5 million pounds was down from over 20 million pounds two years prior.

The combined value of the 2017/2018 Bering Sea crab fisheries was nearly $190 million at the Alaska docks.

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Laine Welch is an independent Kodiak, Alaska-based fisheries journalist. Click here to send her an email.

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