It will be the first time such an extensive survey has been undertaken, said John Hilsinger, science advisor for the Aleutian King Crab Research Foundation, a harvester group.
Hilsinger said: “We need to survey the whole area in order to get a reliable index of what’s out there.”
Up through 2006 Alaska biologists surveyed a small part of the Aleutian crab region, he said, “but they don’t have the money to do it now.” That’s where the Foundation stepped in.
By using the crab fleet to set the pots and collect the data during their fishery, researchers can cover a larger area that has never been surveyed before. Hilsinger said for the first time managers will have a good idea of the size, age and sex makeup of the golden king crab population, and how they are distributed at different depths.
In helping science, the boats may be required to fish in areas where they normally wouldn’t. Catching the crab is tricky, no matter where they go. The goldens live on flat sandy bottom, but also among steep underwater mountains and canyons as deep as 800 fathoms. The fleet normally fishes the flatter areas between 100 and 300 fathoms.
The expanded crab surveys will start yielding useable results in three to five years, Hilsinger said, and it could be 10 years before a ‘proven track record’ of the population can be modeled over time.
“The crabbers are very committed to help over that time frame. That’s a real major contribution by the fleet,” Mr Hilsinger said.
Meanwhile, the Aleutians golden king crab fishery harvest has operated under a six million pound fixed cap for decades and crabbers believe the catch could be higher. Eventually, it could overtake Bristol Bay and become Alaska’s largest king crab fishery.
If the new expanded survey design gets the okay from managers in May, the Aleutians golden king crab survey will begin in mid-August when the fishery gets underway.