A collaborative survey project began mid-March, funded primarily by NOAA Fisheries, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG), with help from the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation (BSFRF), and the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers trade organization (ABSC). These organizations got two boats back out surveying for 25 days. 

This surveying effort will inform spatial management decisions and the possible red king crab season openings as early as the fall. Over a dozen vessels were eager to get back to work, and the two randomly selected were the F/V Summer Bay and F/V Silver Spray.

Gabriel Prout of the F/V Silver Spray (right) and ABSC (Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers) Scientist, Cory Lescher (left).

National Fisherman was able to interview Gabriel Prout of the F/V Silver Spray. Gabriel provided us with the insider scoop from a fisherman’s point of view.

The last two Eastern Bering Sea trawl surveys indicated a continuing decline in Alaska red king crabs in the 2021 and 2022 fall seasons, with female levels falling below the threshold to close the fishery.

More specifically, the surveys showed a continuing low abundance of mature females, while the male king crab has shown some stability. Researchers say the fishery will not open again until the stock levels of females increase enough for it not to be a concern. 

The F/V Silver Spray surveying crew consisted of the vessel’s main crew of five individuals and three scientists and researchers from NOAA, ADFG, and ABSC.

This presented the opportunity for those in most aspects of the industry to come together and do what they love, all on the same boat.

The two boats, crew, researchers, and scientists collected data through:

  • Pot surveying to further understand the winter and spring season distribution
  • Deployment of satellite tags to better understand crab movement
  • Measuring and sexing each crab 
  • Determining maturity and growth

Together the two boats deployed tags on over 100 male king crabs. Due to the cost of the devices, the project supported roughly 50 tags a piece. However, they are tagging in different areas to understand movement trends going into the spring season. 

The tags will stay on the outside of the crab’s shell over the next few months until they are triggered to be released by the device. The tags will then float to the surface and ping the satellites which receive the data and send it back to the researchers at NOAA and ADFG.

The researchers and scientists of NOAA and ADFG will analyze the data collected. The survey results will be crucial information to determine where the crabs are in the winter and what's next for management of this stock.

There is an extreme need to return king crab fishermen to work, affecting Alaska’s communities and families along the coast.

“While this research is being gathered and collected by state and federal agencies, it is being brought to life and quite literally to the sorting table by the hardworking crews of our Bering Sea vessels.” Prout shared.

“The fishing community would love to see more research vessels out there. So many of us are tied up due to low quotas and crab closures.”

The opportunity of this survey has brought a sense of hope to the king crab fleet in Alaska, and the guys out there are grateful for the time they were able to get back to work and see crabs on the deck again.

With the trust of this bringing good news to the community, fishermen are hopeful that this can lead to helpful management decisions made by the state and North Pacific Fisheries Management Council to help stocks recover and get seasons open once more.

Over the past years, the Bering Sea king crab fleet has taken measures to increase soak time, which helps smaller crabs and other species filter out of the pot before being hauled onboard.

Larger mesh sizes have also been a crucial step in helping fishermen result in fewer regulatory discards. Part of that research was planned for this trip but wasn't completed due to harsh weather conditions. Regardless, soak time and mesh size gear work is part of continuing helpful research for crabbers. 

Further surveying practices on Alaska king crab will give the industry answers, but in the meantime, Prout and the rest of the crew hope for more opportunities to get back out on the water.

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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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