FISH FACTOR: Smaller crab fisheries give winter business boost

When most people think of Alaska crab, they envision huge boats pulling up “7-bys” for millions of pounds of bounty in the Bering Sea.

(“7 bys” refers to the 7 foot-by-7 foot-by-3 foot size of the crab pots.) But it is the smaller, local crab fisheries that each winter give a big economic boost to dozens of coastal communities across the Gulf of Alaska.

They occur at a time when many fishing towns are feeling a lull while awaiting the March start of halibut and herring openers. The gearing up means a nice pulse of extra work and money for just about every business tied to fishing.

High winds and overall snotty weather delayed Kodiak’s Tanner crab fishery, but 83 boats dropped pots a day late on Jan. 16. They will compete for a 615,000-pound catch quota, an increase from 400,000 pounds last season. At an average weight of 2.2 pounds, that will yield about 280,000 crabs.

The fishery will go fast, said Natura Richardson, assistant area manager for shellfish at the Department of Fish and Game office at Kodiak.

“It could be as quick as a couple days but it’s looking more like four to six days, something like that,” she said, adding that the mid-winter crab season picks up the pace at work.

“Oh yeah, there’s a lot of activity with all the registrations and figuring out who’s going where. There’s a lot of excitement in the office. It’s fun,” she said.

Reports of prices starting at $4.65 per pound also were exciting, an increase from $4.50 last year. That could mean a payout of nearly $3 million to Kodiak fishermen.

Crab fisheries for Tanners and golden king crab will open throughout Southeast Alaska in mid-February. A fleet of about 60 boats typically participates each winter for a harvest of less than one million pounds of Tanners; around 30 boats fish for golden king crab which has a harvest guideline of about 70,000 pounds.

Southeast’s Dungeness crab fishery, which occurs in the summer and late fall, is one of the region’s most lucrative fisheries. In the 2017-18 season, a fleet of about 200 boats took just less than 2 million pounds (937,701 crabs) valued at nearly $6 million to local fishermen.

Processor reports for 2017 show that they paid $194 million for total crab purchases from Alaska fishermen and sold it to customers for nearly $252 million.

Fish stats

One click will take you to a site where you will find all you need to know about prices and landings for nearly every Alaska fish species, where they were caught, how much of each was processed and into what products, and what processors sold it all for.

It’s called Commercial Fisheries Statistics and Data from the Department of Fish and Game and it extends back to the early 1980s.

For salmon, charts and graphs show historical harvest rankings by the number of fish, the total poundage and average prices for each species by Alaska region and more.

It shows that at Cook Inlet, for example, the highest sockeye price ever paid was $2.54 per pound in 1988, the lowest price was 56 cents in 2002. The best sockeye price to fishermen at Kodiak was $1.83 paid in 2014. At Bristol Bay, the lowest sockeye price was 42 cents a pound paid in 2001. The highest price for chum salmon at Southeast was $1.03 per pound in 1988; in Prince William Sound the low for pinks was 9 cents in 1996, the high was 82 cents in 1988.

Click on herring and you’ll see that for Southeast Alaska’s sac roe fishery, the average price in 2017 was 38 cents per pound and 51 cents for food and bait herring.

The shellfish data includes octopus, shrimp and all crab taken in state waters, meaning out to three miles from shore

It also covers aquatic farming and shows that through 2017, 35 farms in Alaska were producing shellfish and sold nearly 2 million oysters in 2017. The first harvest ever of seaweed (from Kodiak) that year totaled nearly 17,000 pounds.

The dive fisheries are included, as are harvests of lingcod, pollock, cod, rockfish and other whitefish.

Data from Alaska processors are compiled in Commercial Operator’s Annual Reports, or COAR, and show how much fish was processed into frozen, fresh, canned and other forms, plus the wholesale poundages and values by species and area going back to 1984.

For sea cucumbers from Southeast, for example, processors purchased 1.3 million pounds in 2017 and sold them to customers for nearly $12 million dollars. At the Alaska Peninsula, nearly 17 million pounds of cod were processed valued at $27 million to local processors.

Find the statistics and data pages at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website on the left sidebar under fishing.

WA is big AK fish winner

Each year United Fishermen of Alaska updates its Fishing Facts that provide snapshots of coastal communities and municipalities throughout Alaska, plus the west coast. The numbers show that is where most of the fish bucks flow.

The latest data show that just less than 9,000 permit holders fished in 2017, of which 70 percent were Alaska residents.

Nearly 22,000 crew licenses were purchased, split almost evenly between in-and out-of-state residents.

The 2017 Alaska harvest totaled 6.4 billion pounds valued at $1.8 billion in gross dockside earnings for fishermen.

The seafood industry provided more than 64,000 direct jobs making it Alaska’s largest private-sector employer, and it contributed more than $245 million in taxes and fees to the state and over 50 local municipalities.

Permit holders live in 214 Alaska communities and every U.S. state except for West Virginia.

Fishing vessels registered to California owners totaled 1,423, which harvested 160 million pounds of seafood valued at $36.6 million.

There were 2,723 vessels registered to Oregon owners who landed 576 million pounds valued at $136 million at the Alaska docks.

It’s the state of Washington that takes home the bulk of the benefits from Alaska’s fisheries.

A total of 1,713 fishing vessels plying Alaska’s waters in 2017 were registered to Washington owners. Permit holders plus crew from Washington who fished in Alaska added up to 6,707.

And it was those fishermen who took home most of Alaska’s catch and paychecks.

Of the 6.4 billion pounds landed in Alaska, just less than 4 billion pounds were taken by Washington residents. And of the total $1.8 billion dockside seafood value, $873 million went to Washington.

United Fishermen of Alaska is the nation’s largest commercial fishing trade organization with 35 member groups ranging from small skiff operators to huge at-sea catcher processors.

Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Updated: 
01/22/2019 - 6:30pm

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