At their February meeting, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council decided not to move forward with the request to close the Bristol Bay red king crab 4000-square nautical mile saving area to all commercial fishing. The council investigated the effectiveness of closing this eastern Bering Sea section to commercial trawl, pot, and longline fishing. However, they advised that they will not tighten regulations in this area. 

The savings box was established in 1996 as a haven for red king crabs. However, other fishing, such as midwater/ pelagic trawlers, pot fishing, and longlining, is allowed in the area. According to the AFDG Status of King Crab Stocks, the area is closed to bottom trawling. The year after the saving box was established, the mature male red king crab stock increased from 8.5 million to 10.5 million.

According to KUCB, at this meeting, the Council also evaluated a pot gear closure of a large section in the eastern portion of Bristol Bay, known as Area 512, to address drops in the Bristol Bay red king crab stock. Trawling has also previously been prohibited in that area.

The closure was proposed to help manage the species' low abundance and recruitment. The fishery was closed for a couple of years and reopened last fall when surveys revealed higher numbers of mature females; however, harvest limits were significantly lower than usual. 31 vessels delivered nearly all the 2.15 million pounds of quota by Nov. 18, though the season could run until Jan. 15, according to a Dec. 27 article.

More recent surveys show that the female crabs are in areas further east, where trawling is already prohibited. The Council also stated that surveys show little overlap between the presence of crabs where midwater trawling takes place. The impact review for the proposed closure compiled by the Council indicates that closing the area to commercial fishing would likely have some benefits for the struggling stock, however, it’s not currently possible to measure the magnitude of the impact.

KUCB writes that many harvesters and some scientists are concerned about the impact that midwater trawling has on the seafloor habitat of king crabs, especially north of the savings area. Public comments made on the closure from the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers stated that their members would like to see the council explicitly focus on protecting king crab habitat and that the council also include more alternatives beyond static closures.

“The magnitude of mortality due to pelagic trawling in the savings area/ red king crab saving subarea is unknown; however, the previous (Bristol Bay red king crab) analyses state that pelagic trawl impacts to the seafloor are comparable to non-pelagic bottom trawling,” wrote Jamie Goen, executive director of ABSC to the council.

In additional written comments following the decision to not close the area, council members said that the benefits to red king crab resulting from the closures were uncertain and unquantifiable, and likely not impact the population.

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Carli is a Content Specialist for National Fisherman. She comes from a fourth-generation fishing family off the coast of Maine. Her background consists of growing her own business within the marine community. She resides on one of the islands off the coast of Maine while also supporting the lobster community she grew up in.

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