2019 was highest value year on record for Dungeness crab in Southeast Alaska

Portrait of a Dungeness crab. (Photo courtesy Kevin Cole/Wikimedia Commons)

The 2019 commercial Dungeness crab season in Southeast Alaska was the most valuable on record. The summer and fall fisheries brought in $16.3 million at the docks.

The end of the fall fishery is just wrapping up with a few fish tickets still being processed as of the end of January. However, it’s already obvious; it was a record-setting year.

5.3 million pounds of Dungeness crab were harvested, which is the third highest harvest on record. Yet, the price averaged $3.07 a pound making it the highest valued season ever recorded for Southeast.

The previous record for the most valuable year was in 2002. Seven million pounds were harvested but the price was only $1.25 per pound back then.

“It was pretty awesome that we  broke that record,” said Adam Messmer, a shellfish biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Messmer says the high harvest this year means the Dungeness crab population is remaining healthy. He says the timing for the fishery worked out well too.

“We didn’t have a whole lot of softshell, he said.

Softshell occurs during the crab’s molting cycle when Dungeness can’t be sold. In the springtime, most crab grow a new shell and lose the old one. But it takes a while for the new shells to harden up. Managers like Messmer hope that happens by the time the summer fishery begins in June.

“We have springs that are warm and springs that are cool and the Dungies just don’t always molt at the exact same time every year,” said Messmer.

Two hundred permit holders participated in the Dungeness crab season, which is above average.

Most of the crab were caught in the summer fishery, which is normal, because conditions are safer and more fishermen are participating. The summer harvest of 4.2 million pounds was the best in the last decade.

The fall fishery brought in 1.1 million, which is average for that fishery. The main areas were open for all of October and November. Most of the harvest was in three areas– District 8 near Petersburg and Wrangell, District 11 including Stevens Passage near Juneau, and District 6 including Duncan Canal and Level Island.

The summer fishery for Dungeness will open on June 15. Meanwhile, the next crab season in Southeast is for Tanner and golden king crab, which will open in mid-February.

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