That finding could result in higher catches for what is one of Alaska’s largest king crab fisheries.
While only limited surveys have been conducted to evaluate the golden king crab populations, due to the high costs associated with this distant and remote fishery, these deep water stocks have sustained a commercial fishery for more than 30 years; the fishery now has a conservative six million pound harvest cap.
Crabbers have long believed that the catch could be higher – but the lack of research has left too many questions about the overall abundance of the stocks. Last season, fishermen and researchers found a way to collaborate during the fishery to get some answers.
Since commercial crab gear is designed with large-mesh escape panels to let immature crabs get away, no one was sure how many small goldens might be growing into the commercial fishery. With a grant from the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation, the Aleutian crabbers designed and built 20 crab pots that would retain - instead of release - small crabs. They paired the research gear with strings of regular commercial pots during the fishery; each haul was tracked by onboard state biologists.
The results were very clear, said Denby Lloyd, science advisor for the Aleutian King Crab Research Foundation, which was formed by the golden king crab harvesting vessels.
“The regular pots caught good numbers of legal sized crab and the research pots right next to them caught as many or more legals, and very large numbers of small crab,” Lloyd said.
“The research pots caught an abundance of recruit and pre-recruit males and lots of females as well.”
Fishery managers will use the data to help provide information for stock assessments, and while more research is needed, Lloyd said the outlook for more Aleutian king crab is good.
He added: “Golden king crab from the Aleutian Islands might soon compete with Bristol Bay reds for Alaska’s largest king crab fishery.”