Seawatch by Cristy Fry

March 25, 2021

After dealing with the closure of several processing plants in Dutch Harbor and Akutan due to COVID-19 outbreaks, Bering Sea crab fishermen now have to manage another costly and time-consuming problem: not enough fuel in St. Paul in the Pribilof Islands.


By regulation under the IFQ program, boats are required to deliver their crab in either the Pribilofs or the Aleutians, hundreds of miles apart.


However, boats required to deliver their catch to St. Paul have encountered a fuel shortage restricting them to 3,000 gallons, far short of their needs, requiring them to run to Dutch Harbor for fuel.


According to Alaska Public Media, bad weather and other logistics are hampering fuel deliveries. They have been waiting for a delivery for more than two months.


APM talked to crab fisherman Oystein Lone, captain of a 98-foot crab boat, who said he remembered previous fuel shortages on the island but nothing close to the current problem.


“I seem to remember we had some rations, years back, but it was nothing like this,” Lone said.


He and his five-person crew on the F/V Pacific Sounder just started fishing for bairdi Tanner crab on the eastern side of the Pribilof Islands in the middle of the Bering Sea.


Lone and his crew are prepared to deliver their catch in St. Paul. Normally, they’d unload the crab and resume fishing immediately.


But this year, after unloading they’ll run more than 250 miles south to Dutch Harbor to refuel before heading north again. Some of the other four dozen crab boats currently fishing for snow and bairdi crab are more than 500 miles away from Dutch Harbor, he said.


“I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this, where the vessels are having to offload and run to Dutch Harbor to fuel up and then run back up to the grounds, adding three to four days onto their trips,” Lone said. “And that’s getting to be the normal this season.”


Lone added that the 3,000 gallon limit is almost nothing. He usually leaves port carrying about 18,000 gallons of fuel. But after his latest delivery in St. Paul, he has only about two-thirds of that, and plans to ease up on the throttles to make it through his trip before heading to Dutch Harbor to refuel. 


“If you ran out of fuel, that would be devastating,” Lone said. “You don’t push it close to that at all. But I’ve got a feeling some guys are probably pushing it a lot closer than they’d like this year because of the fuel restrictions.”


This article also appears in the Homer News. Cristy Fry can be reached at [email protected].