The National Marine Fisheries Service has opened a review and is taking public comment on Bering Sea crabbers’ request to take emergency action to close the Red King Crab Savings Area and the Red King Crab Savings Subarea to all fishing gear that comes into contact with the ocean bottom.
The request from the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers is dated Sept. 29, after the association failed to sway the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to take new steps for setting aside crab habitat and further reducing bycatch from other fisheries.
Warning signs months before pointed toward declining snow and king crab numbers, and on Oct. 10 Alaska state officials announced sweeping closures in response to dismal survey results. Crab fleet advocates predict direct revenue loss of $500 million from losing the 2022-2023 season and possibly twice that in broader economic impact.
If NMFS implements the requested emergency closures, the measures would affecr pelagic trawl, pot gear, and longline gear, and would be in effect for 180 days after the emergency rule is published. The Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers requested that the closure occur for 6 months – from Jan. 1 to June 30, 2023.
Under existing regulations, non-pelagic trawl gear is already prohibited from fishing in the Red King Crab Savings Area year-round, and in the Red King Crab Savings Subarea when Bristol Bay red king crab is not open to directed fishing.
NMFS is working with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which will respond to the agency at the council’s December meeting. The Bering Sea crabbers association and allied fishing and Alaska community groups will be there to press the agency and council for emergency action.
In announcing the public comment period, the agency says NOAA Fisheries’ Policy Guidelines for the Use of Emergency Rules “outline the criteria for finding whether an emergency exists involving any fishery.
“NOAA Fisheries will make a determination on the petition after considering public comments on this notice, and public comments received during the December Council meeting.”
The deadline to submit comments on the Federal Register notice is December 5, 2022.
People can send their written comments – which should be identified as relating to Docket ID NOAA-NMFS-2022-0111 – by any of the following methods:
Electronic Submission: Via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal, search for NOAA-NMFS-2022-0111. Look for the Comment icon.
Mail: Send to Assistant Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS, P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802-1668.