All hopes for a Bering Sea bairdi Tanner crab fishery in 2017 were dashed this month by a split vote of the state Board of Fisheries.
Crab harvests are based on results of annual surveys and for Tanners, the numbers are driven by the abundance of female crabs. The survey indicated there were not enough females to risk even a reduced opener in a fishery that produced 20 million pounds last year.
Based on their pot pulls, the crabbers believe lots of Tanners are out there but were missed by the trawl survey done jointly each summer by state and federal biologists.
“There’s something of a disconnect between the scientists and fishermen,” said Tyson Fick, spokesman for the trade group Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. “We thought there were enough crab to warrant a small harvest of four million pounds, which would be about four percent of the mature male biomass. Others thought a more precautionary approach was warranted. “
It adds up to a $50 million loss to the crab fleet. An even bigger hit stems from the drop out in the market place where the Tanners were becoming wildly popular. Bairdi Tanners are double the size of their snow crab cousins, weighing two to four pounds. The crabbers and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute have worked hard to build a Tanner brand when the fishery was reopened just three years ago.
“Red Lobster, Joe’s Crab Shack and Publix Markets — all these domestic customers really appreciated what they are getting. It’s going to be an uphill road when we come back into the market again,” Fick said.