Fishery managers concerned about soft-shell crab catch

Fish and Game leader says some buyers not interested in 'light crab'

Posted: Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The 2010 brown king crab and tanner crab seasons are moving slowly but steadily forward with one area's guideline harvest level reached and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game keeping a close watch on the other six.

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Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

Fish and Game closed the East Central Area for brown crab in Frederick Sound on Feb. 20, expecting to exceed the 260,000-pound harvest level. Fish and Game Shellfish Management Project Leader Joe Stratman did express a concern.

"One thing we noticed in the East Central fishery was that a lot of the crab the permit holders were catching were a light crab, also called a soft-shelled crab," Stratman said. "The department would ask the fleet to consult with their buyers on their grading to make sure they are able to sell them all the crab that they retain."

Stratman said that a lot of the buyers were not interested in these crab. Light or soft-shelled crab contain less meat than other species. The crab are counted toward harvest limits, meaning the season could close sooner than first anticipated.

"We just ask the fleet to confirm with the buyers," Stratman said. "... There are some crab the tenders are not even buying."

Crab not bought, whether on the fishing grounds or at the dock, are returned to the fishermen. Fisherman with a catcher/buyer permit can opt to sell them somewhere else.

Juneau's Alaska Glacier Seafood Co. is a major buyer for the local fleet but has a strict policy on soft-shelled crab purchase.

"We are grading them out," AGS vice president Jim Erickson said. "In certain cases we will buy some at reduced cost but it should be back in the ocean, it shouldn't be taken out of the resource. There was a higher incidence in the Frederick Sound area but fishermen are doing a good job grading those out and returning them to the waters. It is something that shouldn't be put on the market because in the long run it hurts the fishermen and the prossesor alike. The Icy Stait area, on the other hand, has great looking crab. Different biomasses different crab i guess."

Through Monday the Icy Strait area had caught 55 percent of its 45,000-pound brown crab limit; the Northern Area had 54 percent of its 145,000-pound limit; Mid Chatham was at 12 percent of its 110,000-pound limit; and North Stephens Pass caught 3 percent of its 20,000-pound limit. No catch data was available for the Lower Chatham and Southern areas.

Eric Rosvold, who was unloading crab in Auke Bay on Saturday, said the brown season seemed to be going well, though slow in the Juneau area. He said speculation about the fishery is best left to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

"This fishery is always hard to know about," Rosvold said. "You are always better off talking to the department and asking those guys what they think. ... You can see that by the size of the crab, there are some big monsters here."

The 2010 tanner crab non-core areas closed at noon Monday and the processors have up to a week to get their fish tickets to the Fish and Game before final tanner numbers can be noted. Core, or traditional, tanner fishing grounds where the majority of the annual harvest is taken remain open.

"The fishing has been good," skipper Justin Peeler said while dock crew from Alaska Glacier Seafood unloaded tanner crab from the hold of his tender into totes and hoisted them to the dock above. "There seem to be some nice tanner crab out there."

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