The first shellfish fishery of the year started Sunday, when boats headed out to harvest tanner crab in areas around Juneau.
"It's a short fishery, but it's an important start for the fisherman and for our facility as well," said Eric Norman, general manager of Taku Fisheries. "Hopefully everybody makes some money and gets the year rolling."
Taku Fisheries paid about $2.50 a pound for tanner crab this year, about the same as what they paid last year. All of the crab the company processes will be shipped in a raw frozen form to Japan, where it will arrive in about three weeks, Norman said.
"It's a great crab but a lot of people here, even in Juneau, don't really highly regard it," he said. "It's a sweet crab, it's fairly expensive and it's just not taken any kind of market in the Lower 48 at all."
Last year, eight processors purchased a total of 800,000 pounds of tanner crab, said Gretchen Bishop, Southeast shellfish project leader for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. This year she expects about five processors to purchase tanner crab.
The tanner crab opening is divided into two segments. The first, when fishermen can harvest from core areas such as Icy Strait, the back side of Douglas Island, Excursion Inlet, parts of Glacier Bay, Lynn Canal, Thomas Bay and around Kake, ends today at noon.
The second portion of the tanner crab opening leaves non-core areas, those in which tanner crab populations haven't been as heavily fished in recent years, open for fishing until Feb. 20.
The harvest has been mediocre in recent years, Bishop said. This year's fishery seems to be falling in line with that trend.
"We have preliminary reports and they are a little variable," she said. "It remains mediocre."
The population of tanner crabs, which the Department of Fish and Game surveys every October, has declined because of overfishing and because of changing ocean conditions, she said.
The crab are usually 6- to 7-years-old before they are large enough to be harvested, Bishop said. An increase in predator population can decrease the number of crab that make it to maturity.
"We have been seeing some pre-recruitment numbers increasing in our surveys," said Bishop, referring to crab that are one year away from being large enough to harvest. "That has provided at least a small amount of optimism for coming years."
Christine Schmid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.