Bering Sea crab quotas bring big job losses

Study finds jobs dropped but value of catch skyrocketed

Posted: Friday, March 24, 2006

ANCHORAGE - A new study found that one of Alaska's prized fisheries underwent dramatic job losses since the Bering Sea crab fishery moved to a quota-based fishery.

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The study of the Bering Sea crab fishery by the University of Alaska Anchorage's Institute of Social and Economic Research looked at the impact of crab rationalization.

The management plan was touted as a way to end the frantic race for crab on the high seas by assigning quota shares to harvesters and processors. In communities like Kodiak and King Cove, officials have said the economic impact is brutal, with the loss of jobs and business in their communities.

The study, which was requested by the city of Kodiak, found that the number of jobs plummeted under crab rationalization but the value of a boat's catch skyrocketed.

UAA economics professor Gunnar Knapp researched the changes since the fishery rationalized or moved to a quota-based fishery as opposed to the traditional race for fish.

"Anytime you change the management of a fishery it's almost impossible to do it in a way that some people don't end up losing out," Knapp, a fisheries expert, told KTUU-TV in Anchorage.

When looking at the red king crab fishery, Knapp found fewer boats fishing, a drop of 65 percent, from 251 to 89. Knapp predicts close to 900 crewmen and skippers spent the 2005 season on the shore.

At the same time, the fishery's catch value climbed last year to $74 million, up 14 percent.

With fewer boats participating in the catch, each boat's share of the catch soared, on average increasing 221 percent, with boats making on average more than $800,000 in a fishery that lasts less than month, Knapp said.

"The total value of the crab that was caught is up slightly this year and that total values is being caught by one third as many boats and so what's happening is that the average catch per boat is way, way up," Knapp said.

Knapp said the winners are those who received crab quota in the shake-up and are now able to lease it to boats for a guaranteed take with no risk. The losers are fishermen who find far fewer boats hiring, he said.

Kodiak is also concerned about the potential of a similar management change for Gulf of Alaska ground fish.

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