NPFMC opposes closure of red king crab “savings area” to commercial fishing

A worker handling a king crab
The Bristol Bay king crab saving area will not be closed to commercial fishing | Photo courtesy of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers
2 Min

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has decided not to approve a request to close the Bristol Bay red king crab saving area to commercial fishing.

The council considered a request from the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers to close the 4,600-square-mile section of the eastern Bering Sea to commercial trawl, pot, and longline fishing at its February meeting, but ultimately decided not to tighten fishing regulations in this area.

Alaska’s red king crab savings area west of Bristol Bay in the Eastern Bering Sea was established in 1996 as an area where crab fishing and bottom-trawling is prohibited to provide an area where crab would not face fishing pressure. However, other fishing, such as pelagic trawlers, pot fishing, and longlining, has historically been allowed on the assumption it has minimal impact on the king crab population. The year after the saving box was established, the mature male red king crab stock increased from 8.5 million to 10.5 million.

The NPFMC also evaluated a pot gear closure in Area 512 in the eastern area of Bristol Bay to address a decline in the Bristol Bay red king crab stock, which has resulted in a closure of the red king crab fishery in 2021 and 2022, though the fishery reopened with a limited quota in 2023. The 31 vessels in the fishery delivered nearly all the 2.15 million pounds of quota by 18 November.

In January 2023, NOAA rejected a petition from the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers to close the savings area to all fishing gear types, ruling the requested first needed to be approved by the NPFMC. The council considered the request at several of its 2023 meetings, and ultimately decided there was not enough data to show the closure would provide a significant benefit, according to KUCB.

Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers Executive Director Jamie Goen said her group wants the NPFMC to take further action to protect king crab habitat, including considering alternatives beyond static closures, and that it would like the council to further investigate the impact that midwater trawling has on the seafloor habitat of king crab, especially north of the savings area.

“The magnitude of mortality due to pelagic trawling in the savings area [and] red king crab saving subarea is unknown; however, previous analyses state that pelagic trawl impacts to the seafloor are comparable to non-pelagic bottom trawling,” Goen told the council.

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