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Alaska Fish Factor: Crab Catches Expected to Take a Dip

Crustaceans Sustainability Economics +5 more

US - Catches for Alaskas premier crab fisheries in the Bering Sea could take a dip this year based on results from the annual summer surveys.

Lucy Towers thumbnail

The annual report by NOAA Fisheries called “The Eastern Bering Sea Continental Shelf Bottom Trawl Survey: Results from Commercial Crab Species” (long dubbed the ‘crab map’) shows tables reflecting big drops over the past year in abundance of legal sized males for both snow crab and red king crab at Bristol Bay. (Only legal males are allowed to be retained for sale.)

But there is a bright side -- both stocks appear to have strong numbers of younger crab set to recruit into the fisheries in coming years.

The crab surveys – done since the 1970s - are conducted using trawl nets during June and July each year, and cover a span of 140,000 nautical square miles. The data from this summer show that for red king crab, legal male abundance was 8.7 million crabs, a 30 percent decrease.

“In 2014, the harvest level was set at 9.98 million pounds, so one likely extrapolation may be a reduction in harvests in the 15 to 25 percent range,” said market expert John Sackton.

An encouraging sign is that 99 percent of the females observed in Bristol Bay had full egg clutches, indicating high mating success.

According to Jake Jacobsen of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange which represents 70 percent of crab harvesters, the value of the 2014 Bristol Bay red king crab fishery, based on a dock prices of $6.77 per pound, was nearly $68 million.

For snow crab, the survey numbers were down substantially, and Sackton predicts catch reductions will likely “be in excess of 20 percent” of last season’s 68 million pound harvest.

The 2014 value of the snow crab fishery, based on a fishermen’s price of $2.04 per pound, was about $139 million at the docks.

Last season’s biggest surprise was a whopping 15 million pound Tanner crab catch, the largest in 20 years. (Bairdi Tanners are the larger cousin of snow crab.) This summer’s survey showed levels of male Tanner crabs continued to increase, especially in the Eastern Bering Sea where the legal male biomass is the second largest since 1994.

Most crabbers received $2.42 a pound for their Tanners making that fishery’s dockside value worth $36.5 million.

The report also noted that for a second year in a row, average bottom and surface temperatures were warmer in both Bristol Bay and the rest of the eastern Bering Sea relative to recent years
Catch quotas for the 2015 Bering Sea crab fisheries will be announced within a couple of weeks. The crab fisheries open on October 15.

Marine debris and the Christmas tree - Four thousand ornaments representing Alaska’s marine life, landscapes, wildlife, heritage and more will adorn the 215 U.S. Capitol Christmas tree this holiday season.

The Chugach National Forest was chosen to provide the “People’s Tree” this year, which will sit on the front lawn of the White House. Since 1970 the U.S. Forest Service has chosen a different national forest each year to provide the famous tree.

Ten artists from the honored state are handpicked (in this case, by the Alaska State Council of the Arts) to create ornaments that reflect something special about their particular area. The artists also provide lesson plans and patterns for students and community members to make the ornaments for the People’s Tree.

For Bonnie Dillard, a retired high school art teacher from Kodiak, her chosen theme is fish ornaments made from marine debris.

“This isn’t just a cute idea, this is something that is trying to communicate a problem,” Dillard said.

“Every time you walk on the beach you see garbage, especially plastics. When people are handling the marine debris while they are making the ornaments, I want the conversation to be about what happens to our garbage. And when people see the ornaments, I want them to think about the things they are throwing away and where it ends up. I’m hoping this will be an avenue to get the word out.”

More Alaskan ornaments are needed by October 1. Find out how to get yours included at .

Acid oceans road show – A first of its kind, interactive learning tool to help people better understand the impacts of corrosive oceans is traveling to coastal communities across Alaska. The Alaska Marine Conservation Council, along with Cook Inletkeeper, created an ocean acidification educational kiosk which made its debut two weeks ago in Homer.

“Even though there have been a lot of scientific presentations in our communities, there hasn’t been a regular presence of information for people to learn from. Our goal is to make the science more understandable and more available so people can get involved in addressing the issue,” said Dorothy Childers, AMCC Associate Director.

The oceans are absorbing more carbon dioxide than ever before from the burning of fossil fuels, which changes the chemistry to become more acidic. An irrefutable effect is that marine organisms, such as crabs, snails and shrimp, are unable to grow their shells.

Kiosk visitors can press different buttons to watch and hear scientific facts and fears about ocean acidification from experts and fishermen. Childers said AMCC hopes to get funding to make the kiosks permanent fixtures at harbors throughout Alaska. For now, the plan is to share the one with other communities.

“We are hoping that communities around the Gulf and Bering Sea will be interested in inviting the kiosk to come to their harbor,” she said.