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Unalaska Committee Supports Tanner Crab Opening By Narrow Margin

Dec 1, 2016

Tanner crab.
Credit U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia Commons

Unalaska's Fish and Game Advisory Committee will support a proposal to allow a limited tanner crab fishery in the Bering Sea this season.

The committee endorsed the proposal at a meeting Wednesday night, but only after a close 6-4 vote.

The Alaska Board of Fisheries wrote the much-debated proposal after the original decision to close the $50 million fishery was met with backlash from the crab industry, as well as the Cities of Unalaska and St. Paul.

This year, the Bering Sea tanner stock fell short of the opening threshold by nearly two million pounds, but many people have questioned the accuracy of the population survey as well as the conservative management strategy, which relies on female biomass as the deciding factor.

Committee Chair Frank Kelty voted in favor of the proposal because it would remove that standard.

"You've got to get rid of that female-only threshold and do a threshold level that includes mature males, like in most of the other fisheries," said Kelty. "I don't know how this bairdi fishery got so messed up on the harvest strategy."

According to biologist Mark Stichert, the problem is that tanner crab is even more unpredictable than opilio and red king crab. While the bairdi fishery supported strong harvests for the last two seasons, he said numbers are now down across the board: record-low females, fewer males, and almost no recruitment of juvenile crab.

"And next year, the expectation is that [tanners] are going to be at or below where they're at this year," said Stichert, who joined the meeting by phone from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak. "The question becomes: What's the short-term reward versus the potential long-term consequence?"

The Board of Fisheries will make that call at a meeting in Kodiak on Jan. 10.

Meanwhile, the board has agreed to consider a local proposal on sockeye salmon at their meeting in March.

Unalaska's advisory committee drafted a motion this fall to limit the number of reds that subsistence fishermen can harvest on Front Beach. If the proposal passes, each permit holder will only be allowed to take 10 sockeye from that spot in Unalaska Bay.   

The committee’s second proposal failed. It would have required sport fishermen to move at least 250 yards off the mouth at Summer Bay and Morris Cove before taking reds.

Correction: This story previously stated the Board of Fisheries tabled the committee's sport fishing proposal. The proposal actually failed, and the story has been updated.