A special Board of Fisheries meeting in May will take a closer look at the harvest strategy for bairdi Tanner crab in the Bering Sea. The fishery produced a 20 million pound harvest in 2015 – the region’s biggest – but was abruptly closed last year when surveys showed low numbers of female Tanners. The crabbers believe lots are out there; they’re just not showing up in the surveys.
“It’s a challenge when you have a fishery like this where the survey is done with trawl and it’s a pot fishery. Who knows what happens to those crab. We certainly seen in many areas reports from the grounds that there are a whole lot of bairdi crab out there.”
Tyson Fick is director of the trade group Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. “It’s difficult to know what the female population is because the gear is rigged to select for larger male crab on the bottom. For the most part you don’t interact that much with the female crab as a fishing group.”
It’s important to constantly update and verify the best available science, Fick says, to manage the crab fisheries. At the May, state, federal and university crab scientists will look at several variables.
One main part is to look at the female threshold computation. We want to evaluate the designation of female maturity. Right now it is a measurement of the carapace across the back of the crab, but we know from observer data that many times crab that are smaller than that measurement are mature, they have eggs. Maybe we can look at adjusting the definition there to more accurately represent the definition of female maturity.”
They’ll discuss including Tanners west of the 173 longitude line where surveys are not currently done, and consider using a male crab threshold as a stock indicator. Bairdi Tanner crab is the only fishery that use a female-only indicator for stock abundance.
“We want to think about alternatives to a single open/close threshold like the on and off switch we saw happen this year where it went from almost 20 million pounds to zero.”
The Tanner closure was a loss of nearly $50 million at the docks. Fick says Bering Sea crabbers are very appreciative of the willingness of their management partners to come to the table.
“We really value and appreciate the opportunity to discuss this. I think it is important to every so often to go through and verify you are doing things the best way you know how. At the end of the day it’s a judgment call in so many places that as best we can to keep trying to verify we are using the best information available. It’s good for everybody. “
The Board of Fisheries crab meeting is set for May 17 and 18 at the Anchorage Sheraton. Find Alaska crab catches and more at www.alaskafishradio.com and on Facebook and Twitter.