Eighty-eight tons of red king crab landed

Southeast commercial crabbers caught about 176,000 pounds of red king crab last month in a fishery worth nearly $1.9 million on the docks. That’s according to a preliminary estimate from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Fifty-four permit holders fished the Southeast red crab season which opened November 1st and lasted just under two weeks total. More than half the boats were out of Petersburg, where Icicle Seafoods was one of the local buyers. Randy Lantigne is Icicle’s fleet manager:

It was the region’s first red king crab season since 2005. The fishery had been closed until this year because the state’s annual survey had regularly yielded low estimates of harvestable crab. Crabbers disagreed with those findings and in 2009 Department of Fish and Game biologists and fishermen began a collaborative effort to ground truth the annual results with a new method. The approach…called mark and recapture….resulted in uniformly higher numbers for each area they checked. That led the department to adjust this year’s assessment upwards enough to have a fishery which was, of course, good news for the industry.

The seasons catch of about 176,000 pounds was roughly 88-percent of the department’s regionwide guideline harvest level and about 35,000 pounds less than the 2005 catch. The GHL was split up among four separate harvest areas this year. As in the past, crabbers called in their catches so the department could estimate how much had been caught and close each area accordingly. Area 11A closed after one pre-scheduled day of fishing. Based on call-ins, the Pybus bay, Gambier Bay, Round Rock area off Southern Admiralty Island closed after three days. Excursion Inlet, Saint James bay area west of Juneau and the rest of the region — known as the non-surveyed area — stayed open for 13 days. The department’s regional shellfish project leader Joe Stratman thinks it went well. He also says they had good cooperation from the processors who helped keep the department up on what they were buying.

Fish and Game saw good catch rates were good in both 11A and the Pybus-Gambier areas. The fleet caught just under 10,000 pounds or about 110-percent of the target in 11A. The Pybus, Gambier Bay area catch was nearly 60,000 pounds or 91-percent of the department’s objective. Stratman says things were a little slower in the Excursion Inlet and the St. James bay area west of Juneau as well as the non surveyed areas. He says catch rates improved in the non-surveyed area as the season went on and the pots soaked longer, but that wasn’t the case in Excursion Inlet.

Ultimately, the Excursion and St. James area yielded about 13,000 pounds which was just 45-percent of the target. But in the non-surveyed area, the fleet landed 96-percent of the goal with 93,000 pounds of crab.

Southeast red crab was a lot more valuable this year partly because much more of it went to the live market instead of being frozen. In fact, at an average of nearly $11.00 per pound, the dock price was more than double that of six years ago when the fishery last opened. The crabs weighed an average of 8.4 pounds each this year which is a little bigger than in 2005. That works out to nearly $100 for each crab. According to Fish and Game, the entire catch was worth $1,870,000 to the fleet which is over $700,000 more than in 2005.

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