Friday, October 14, 2011

The ups and downs of Alaskan crabbing

Red king crab and snow crab fisheries open tomorrow (October 15th)!! What are the ups and downs, you ask? I'll start with the 'down' (everyone chooses to hear the bad news first, right?):

The red king crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus) fishery, has been cut by 47% to 7.8 million pounds. Not only is this bad for the fishermen, but it's also bad for the crabs. A decrease in total allowable catch generally means crab stock estimates have decreased as well. And with king crab taking several (8 or so? maybe less now) years to grow into the fishery, at a size limit of 135 mm (6.5 in) carapace length, it may be a few years before the numbers can come up again.


OK, so that was the down. Here's the up:

Snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio) catch quota has been raised by 64% to just under 90 million pounds!!! Holy Bunch-O-Crab, Batman! Last year the ex-vessel price of opies was $103 million (at ~$2.12/lb), so even if the price per pound doesn't increase, the ex-vessel price will be (let me do some quick math):

almost $169 million!!!

Why the big increase in the snow crab quota? Haven't I been saying snow crab are in a rebuilding phase since their declaration of being overfished in 1999 (NMFS declared it, not the crabs themselves. Can you imagine?

Anyway, based on trawl surveys (like the one I participated in during the summer of 2009), the population estimate of eastern Bering Sea snow crab may be greater than 1 BILLION pounds! (Picture me saying that with my pinky at the corner of my mouth.) That means the stock may finally be considered "rebuilt"!! In order to be considered rebuilt, the stock needed to be greater than BMSY for two years in a row. BMSY is the Biological Maximum Sustainable Yield, and for snow crabs BMSY is 921.6 million pounds. According to this NOAA Tech Memorandum (it's a draft copy, but it's what I could find on short notice with the most current data), the stock was estimated around 670 million pounds in 2009, but for 2010 and 2011 the stock estimates reached over 1 billion pounds (pinky fingers!), far surpassing the 921.6 million pounds needed!

Biomass estimates for eastern Bering Sea snow crab:
the total stock estimates are in dark blue, but just for fun
I thought I'd throw in the estimates for legal males
and commercially preferred males (> 102 mm or 4 in)
in orange and light blue, respectively 

This is not only great for the fishermen (cha-ching), but great for the crabs themselves, who have been experiencing some temperature stresses from their cold pool (the area of water in the Bering Sea that is the perfect temperature for them to thrive) shifting northward, bitter crab disease turning up in opies, and cannibalism. Oh, the cannibalism!

get the butter ready!

BUT let's not forget that snow crab have a really crazy recruitment pattern. They're not easily predicted, which has led to overharvesting in the past. We'll just have to stay tuned.

(For more economic info, and some pretty graphs, check out this PDF.)

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