Small quotas drive high prices in Alaska crab catch

Crab fisheries up and down Alaska’s coast are registering higher than average prices, a trend spurred by strong demand on lower quotas.

Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) slashed the total allowable catch (TAC) for Bering Sea snow crab by 50 percent for 2016/17 from the previous season to 21.57 million pounds, the lowest in 45 years.

But, in a consoling development for fisherman, snow crab ex-vessel prices are between USD 2.70 and 2.85 (EUR 2.50 and 2.65) per pound. The price is significantly better than last year and the year before, which registered respective averages of USD 1.99 (EUR 1.84) and USD 1.68 (EUR 1.55), according to figures provided by Miranda Westphal, ADF&G’s area management biologist for the Bering Sea and the Aleutian Islands. As of Monday, 13 March, fisherman had pulled nearly 20 million of the historically low TAC in ongoing snow crab fishing.

The red king crab season in Bristol Bay closed just shy of its TAC of 8.47 million, with ADF&G reporting an ex-vessel price of USD 9.05 (EUR 8.37) per pound. Westphal pointed out that not all deliveries are reported to ADF&G and that some prices may not “be representative of the whole fishery.”

Westphal also reported that fishermen were quickly approaching TAC limits on golden king crab in both the western and eastern Aleutian Islands fisheries, with a combined catch of around 5.3 million pounds on a 5.5 million pound limit. Golden king crab was fetching USD 4.40 (EUR 4.06) on average from both fisheries.

Prices for Norton Sound king crab were at a record high, with major buyer Norton Sound Seafood Products in Nome, Alaska paying out USD 7.75 (EUR 7.16) per pound. According to numbers tallied Thursday, 9 March, fisherman had caught 38,831 pounds of the 39,744-pound TAC for commercial catch. The community development quota (CDQ), however, still had just under 30,000 pounds of harvest remaining, according to James Menard, ADF&G’s area management biologist for Norton Sound and Kotzebue.

In concert with reduced quotas for many crab fisheries this season, ADF&G shut down tanner crab fishing this season in the Bering Sea, citing dwindling numbers. Meanwhile, fisherman continued to push for officials to reinstate tanner crab quotas in Cordova and Prince William Sound. The fishery once produced some 13 million pounds annually, but catches dropped drastically in the 1980’s and the fishery was finally shuttered in 1989 after the Exxon Valdez spill.


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