Fishermen and Biologists Dig Into Crab Science

Friday, October 11 2013

Although the federal government shutdown is threatening to delay the opening of the crab season next week, fishermen -- and state biologists -- are getting prepared anyways.

This week, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game finished writing up catch limits for all of the state’s crab fisheries. And on Friday morning, Fish and Game biologist Doug Pengilly spent a few hours explaining the science behind those limits to fishermen in Seattle, with crabbers joining in from Kodiak and Unalaska by phone.

Snow crab needed the most explanation. This year, Fish and Game put 54 million pounds up for harvest. That’s 20 percent less than last year.

Pengilly that's because surveys of the fishing grounds turned up less snow crab this year -- and that was a surprise, considering that Fish and Game's statistical model predicted that the snow crab population would increase.

"The model is apparently trying to carry through crab that showed up in 2010 at smaller sizes, and keeps them coming through," Pengilly said. "They didn’t show up this year, but the model is saying, ‘They’re coming through.’"

In response, Fish and Game decided to use different data to come up with a catch limit on snow crab, and disregard the part of the model that didn’t seem to be working to avoid overfishing.

They're not discounting it altogether, though. Pengilly said Fish and Game will use that formula again in future years.

"Maybe the model’s right," he said. "There is a possibility."

Fish and Game is allowing slightly higher harvests this year in some of the other crab fisheries. Bristol Bay red king crab quota is 8.6 million pounds, which is about 9 percent higher than last year’s limit.

State managers also allocated 3.1 million pounds of bairdi tanner crab this year. That fishery was shut down altogether in 2012. St. Matthew’s blue king crab, and Pribilof red and blue crab will be closed down this season.

But all of the fisheries are off-limits to the crab fleet until they obtain federal permits from the National Marine Fisheries Service -- and that will have to wait until government employees are cleared to go back to work.



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