Fish Factor by Laine Welch

October 29, 2021

It’s hard to believe, but Dungeness crab in the Gulf of Alaska is now Alaska’s largest crab fishery – a distinction due to the collapse of stocks in the Bering Sea.

 

Combined Dungeness catches so far from Southeast and the westward region (Kodiak, Chignik and the Alaska Peninsula) totaled over 7.5 million pounds as the last pots were being pulled at the end of October.

 

Ranking second is golden king crab taken along the Aleutian Islands with a harvest by four boats of about 6 million pounds.

 

For snow crab, long the Bering Sea’s most productive shellfish fishery, the catch was cut by 88% to 5.6 million pounds this season.

 

The Gulf’s Dungeness fishery will provide a nice payday for crabbers. The dungies, which weigh just over two pounds on average, were fetching $4.21 per pound for 209 permit holders at Southeast who will share in the value of over $14 million.

 

The price was slightly higher at $4.25 for 54 westward region crabbers where catches will bring in nearly $18 million at the docks.

 

And unlike the revenues generated by the Bering Sea crab fisheries, the Dungeness dollars will remain in Alaska communities where nearly all of the crabbers call home. 

 

Documents from NOAA Fisheries for 2019/2020 show that 52 Alaska residents own 31% of the Bering Sea snow crab quota share pool while 200 non-residents own 66% of the quota pool. Similar proportions apply for Tanner crab. For Bristol Bay red king crab, closed this season for the first time in 25 years, 49 Alaskans own 28% of the quota share pool; 181 Outsiders own 70% of the crab shares.

 

For snow crab, gross revenues to harvesters totaled $108.38 million based on an average price of $3.98 per pound. Fifteen Alaska-based vessels took 24% of the dockside dollars while 36 Washington-based boats took 64%.

 

For Bristol Bay red king crab, gross earnings were $44.8 million, based on an average price of $11.87 per pound.  Eighteen of the permit holders were Alaska-based and pocketed 28% of the revenues, while 41 non-residents pocketed 72% of the landed crab values.

 

Dunleavy discusses bycatch - Bycatch of salmon, halibut and crab continues to dominate fishery discussions among Alaska commercial, sport and subsistence groups. But the topic has drawn little, if any, comment among Alaska’s elected officials or those running for office.

 

Governor Mike Dunleavy shared his thoughts recently on The Alaska Outdoor Podcast with Caleb Martin, saying bycatch is “on the front burner” with his administration.

 

“We need to get some answers so we can better understand this and better respond to what's happening. But it's certainly a serious issue that is getting our full attention,” he said, adding that a “whole host of reasons” need to be considered far beyond the Bering Sea.   

 

Focusing primarily on bycatch of Chinook salmon, Dunleavy said, “I mean, people have come up, for example, with ideas on some of the fishing issues in South Central Alaska or other parts of Alaska that it could be pike, it could be beaver dams. In the Mat-Su, it could be culverts, it could be bycatch. It could be changes in the temperature in the water, it could be the changes in the food supply in the oceans, it could be other types of high seas water issues or quality issues, feed issues. And so I think we have to look at everything to really approach this from a scientific perspective.”

 

The podcaster pointed out that Canada took tough regulatory steps to greatly reduce bycatch   in just a year in some cases. Might Alaska do the same, he asked?

 

“So that's been discussed, as well as a whole host of other issues,” the governor said. “Because, again, we want to make sure that we're not missing anything as we go through these studies and we research these issues. We want to make sure that we don't overlook something but you know, bycatch is something that's certainly being discussed.”

 

Martin asked if the State of Alaska has officially commented on reducing Bering Sea halibut bycatch to federal managers.

 

“I have no doubt that our fish folks, starting with our commissioner and the individuals that work for the State of Alaska in our Fish and Game department will be having discussions and comments on the issue,” Dunleavy said.

 

Candidate for governor, Les Gara, so far is the only other pol who has commented on bycatch in an opinion piece saying: “I believe Outside factory trawlers that drag the ocean floor can’t be good for fish or crab habitat. They’re a part of the loss of king and chum salmon, as well as other fish and crab around the state. We should let science and local knowledge guide better policies to reduce factory trawler bycatch and the dumping of tons of dead fish overboard. Commercial, subsistence and sportfishing should bind us together to protect what we have, for Alaskans who fish for income, food, culture or enjoyment.”    

 

Expos and All Hands – “I'm so happy to be talking about live, in person events coming back,” is how Bob Callahan, director of Pacific Marine Expo, summed up the event set for Nov. 18-20 in Seattle.

 

Now in its 55th year Callahan said the Expo is filling up fast.

 

“So 400 exhibiting companies are expected and attendance at 6,000,” he said. “Right now, we have 3,000 of which 20% are from Alaska.  The attendance number is growing rapidly day by day. I think people are just waiting to ensure that the show is going to take place and we are 100% sure that it will take place.” 

 

The Expo will feature a full line of free presentations, the popular Fisherman of the Year competition and each day’s Happy Hour will include ticket giveaways to the Sea Hawks game on Sunday.

 

“For those thinking of attending, our health and safety measures are of the highest standard,” Callahan stressed. “To get back to face to face and seeing your old friends - it's going to be a memorable experience and you're going to be so excited to get some normality back into your life by interacting with your industry colleagues.” 

 

Closer to home, the annual Fall Fishermen’s Expo from Sitka is online with its interactive forums and training workshops on November 8th and 9th.

 

The lineup includes navigation tools, pot gear updates, bycatch, climate change effects on fish stocks, carbon pricing and programs for beginning fishermen.

 

The Fishermen’s Expo is hosted by the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust. Sign on for free at alfa.fish.org/

 

All Hands on Deck is a virtual public event by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute that brings all of its programs, committees, accomplishments and challenges to the forefront and gathers input for promoting Alaska seafood in the U.S. and around the globe. All Hands takes place online November 9-12. Sign on for free at www.alaskaseafood.org/

 

ASMI was created 40 years ago as a public-private partnership between the State and Alaska’s seafood industry. It is Alaska’s lone seafood marketing arm but the state zeroed out its budget two years ago. ASMI is funded by a voluntary tax paid by Alaska processors and federal funds.  As a reminder: the seafood industry is Alaska’s largest private employer, it generates state revenues second only to oil, and seafood is Alaska’s biggest export by far.

 

Find more at www.alaskafishradio.com

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