Friday, October 7, 2016

Big Trouble in Little Bering Sea

Oh man, you guys. This is a doozy.

I posted a brief Tanner crab (Chionoecetes bairdi) update from Alaska Department of Fish and Game yesterday on Facebook. TL;DR - the Bering Sea fishery for bairdis is closed for the 2016/2017 season.

The bairdi fishery in the Bering Sea has had a rocky past with openings and closures fluctuating throughout the years, but it was starting to look good again even as recently as 2015! The fishery was closed from 1997 - 2004, open fully 2006 - 2009, closed again from 2010 - 2013, then open fully until 2015 with high catches and high vessel participation (112 vessels in the 2015/2016 season compared to 32 in 2013/2014).

from the 2016 crab SAFE data

You can read all about the fishery in the latest Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands stock assessment and fishery management report (in nerd lingo - the crab SAFE), which is put out by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Here's a link to the Crab Plan Team with all their fun reports, and this link will send you to the current Council meeting (happening now) where you can find the 2016 crab SAFE in the Agenda. It's listed under "C. Major Issues/Final Action Items" as the first item.

OK, so that's bairdi, but you all know I really love me some opies. How are they doing?

Not good. ADF&G announced that Bering Sea snow crab will be open this year (October 15th, as usual) but with the lowest total allowable catch (TAC) in 45 years. The low TAC, at 21.57 million pounds, is  nearly HALF of what it was last year (40.57 million pounds)! Why? Because surveys of the crabs have shown a decline in the number of mature males out there (who we like to eat) AND mature females out there (who make the babies).

from the 2016 crab SAFE data

This low baby-makin' biomass means potentially fewer adults in the future. That's why management has to be so conservative to allow for the crabs to do their business and replenish the stock. But for the moment it also means low catches and A LOT less money for our crab fishermen, processors, and on down the line. The other thing fishermen have to worry about is any accidental retention of bairdis since that fishery is closed, making these crab-cousins prohibited.

opilio up top, bairdi on bottom

Good luck, crabs!