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Sea ice threatening crab fishery

Posted: January 27, 2012 - 1:05am

ANCHORAGE — Sea ice that is encroaching on the central Bering Sea is threatening to shut down the snow crab fishery at the peak of the season, according to the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association.

The fishery was expected to net 80 million pounds this year, but now crabbing boats are retrieving their pots or sitting in Dutch Harbor in a development that could have a devastating effect on crabbers trying to make a living off the fishery, the Anchorage Daily News reported Thursday.

The problem is that earlier-than-expected ice is moving south over prime crabbing boats. Karen Gillis, the association’s executive director, said there has not been a natural event like this in 20 years.

“We’re talking about household incomes that are being severely impacted, households that don’t have a lot of other income sources,” she said.

Crabbing boats are out retrieving their pots or sitting in Dutch Harbor rather than delivering their catch to the now iced-in Trident Seafoods processing plant on St. Paul, said Edward Poulson, an adviser for the Bering Sea Crabbers Association and longtime crabber.

“Every day the boat sits in town waiting to see if the weather is going to turn you’re burning money,” Poulson said.

Some 8,000 pots are in the water right now — putting a total of more than $8 million worth of gear potentially in the ice’s path, said Heather Fitch, an area management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Dutch Harbor.

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