Kodiak fishermen sit out opener as dispute over crab prices continues

Boats stacked with empty crab pots sit in Kodiak’s St. Paul Harbor. (Brian Venua/KMXT)

Fishermen should have been setting their gear on Sunday morning for the opening of Kodiak’s biggest tanner crab fishery since 1986. But the harbor was almost full, with dozens of boats stacked high with empty crab pots. At the coffee shop near the docks downtown, fishermen lined up for free coffee instead.

Frank Miles owns the Sumner Strait — it’s a 58-foot limit seiner — and has fished commercially for nearly 50 years. His first tanner season around Kodiak was in the early 80s, when he chopped bait for a local boat.

“I’ve parlayed it into a very good livelihood,” he said. “I’ve raised three kids in this town on the back of fishing income, and it’s been a beautiful thing.”

Miles normally fishes pot cod and longlines for halibut and black cod. He also tenders salmon. He sat out the beginning of this cod season so he could go out for tanners instead. He didn’t think prices would be quite as high as last year’s record of more than $8 per pound.

“But I never in my wildest dreams thought that we’re gonna get offered $2.50. It really is a slap in the face,” Miles said.

That’s how much all of Kodiak’s processors offered ahead of the scheduled opener for the tanner crab fishery.

Miles says he understands that processors’ expenses have gone up, but so have his. Fuel and bait costs have increased, it’s more expensive to replace or repair crab pots, and he’s losing money staying tied up. Miles said it costs $63,000 to insure his boat — which is one of two that he owns — plus $15,000 in moorage fees for the Sumner Strait alone.

Skippers and crew from Kodiak, Chignik and the South Peninsula have been holding out for better price before they go fishing (Brian Venua/KMXT)

Kodiak’s entire fleet sat out the season opener on Sunday, and they aren’t planning on fishing anytime soon. That includes fishermen in Chignik and the South Peninsula.

“Nobody’s pulling any pots as far as we know,” said Kevin Abena, the secretary and treasurer for the Kodiak Crab Alliance Cooperative, which represents about 120 permit holders in the fishery.

It’s a diverse group that includes 32-foot gillnetters to 118-foot crabbers.

He said they’re still negotiating with the canneries in town, but so far, the best offers are coming from processors out the Aleutian Chain.

“We are actively finding tenders right now, working with the processors out west to formulate a plan to move all this crab out west,” Abena said.

As of Monday, that decision wasn’t final, but it’s a serious option. Abena said the cooperative is in talks with Peter Pan in King Cove to process crab from Kodiak.

Canneries to the west are offering close to $4 per pound for Bering Sea tanners. But Kodiak tanner crabs are about an inch bigger. That’s another sticking point for local fishermen, who say the crab around Kodiak is more valuable than what’s currently on the market.

Abena said both the community and fishermen from other parts of the state have reached out to express their support of the stand-down. At this point, he says the soonest the fleet would go fishing is Wednesday, Jan. 18.

“The amount that we stand to gain, everybody understands it is much greater than what we’re losing right now for standing down for a day, two, three, four – a week – whatever it takes,” he said.

Fisherman Frank Miles said whenever they get a fair deal, he’ll be ready.

“I can’t wait to go fishing, man, I think everybody’s ready to go,” he said. “I’ve never seen a fleet so ready.”

In the meantime, he and the others will continue to wait.

As of Monday morning, processors in Kodiak either could not be reached by phone or had no comment.

Brian Venua contributed to this reporting.

KMXT - Kodiak

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