Thursday, September 24, 2009

Snow crab catch could drop 14 percent or more

Rough waters ahead for snow crabbers? USCG photo

Here's a highly anticipated letter out today from the National Marine Fisheries Service discussing the status of various crab stocks, most notably Bering Sea snow crab.

As we've discussed recently here on Deckboss, snow crab has been under a 10-year rebuilding plan that's just about run its course.

Government scientists don't believe the stock has made enough of a recovery from its crash in the late 1990s, so the feeling among many industry players was that regulators might cut the catch limit for the upcoming season, which opens Oct. 15.

This letter seems to confirm that fear.

As I read it, the letter suggests a maximum total allowable catch of 50.5 million pounds, which would be a 14 percent drop from last season's limit of 58.6 million pounds.

But NMFS counsels even more conservative harvests as a way to speed up stock recovery under a proposed five-year rebuilding plan extension.

"Allowing the maximum catch this year may result in a potentially greater reduction in the harvest rate in future years to meet the rebuilding goal," the letter says. "Conversely, a more conservative harvest rate this year may allow for a higher harvest rate in the future and still meet this goal."

A lot of people on both the federal and state levels have a say in setting the final catch limit for this season.

We should know by the first of next month where the fishery stands.

Snow crab, for those who don't know, is one of Alaska's most valuable commercial crab fisheries, worth roughly $50 million to $100 million dockside in recent years.

Upwards of 100 boats take part in the fishery, including some featured on the Discovery Channel's hit show, "Deadliest Catch."

Although the fishery opens Oct. 15, most of the main snow crab harvest takes place after the first of the year, when the crab are in prime condition.


Anonymous said...

tanner crab.
Opilio or bairdi.
Calling them by any other name is pr bull waste. Deminishes your credibility.

Deckboss said...

Thanks, Anonymous, for reading Deckboss.

Those PR people really are idiots, aren't they?

I mean, just think of the tremendous boost in sales we'd get, and the higher prices fishermen would enjoy, if only restaurants would put words like "opilio" and "bairdi" on their menus.

All kidding aside, I'm kind of torn on these things. When I formerly worked as a reporter at the Anchorage Daily News, we used to have a rule that we couldn't call a sockeye salmon a sockeye. It had to be "red" salmon.

Of course, to be really precise, I guess we should call sockeye salmon "Oncorhynchus nerka," right?


Deckboss said...

Another reader sent me an e-mail questioning why I wrote that "upwards of 100" boats participate in the snow crab fishery.

The reader, who says he's a former crab fisherman who was "greatly affected" by crab rationalization and the subsequent fleet consolidation, tells me vessel participation is much lower than what I indicated.

"It used to be about 180 before consolidation, and now it is in the range of fifty or so," writes the ex-crabber. "Do you have some sort of reason for trying to make the consolidation look less severe, or was this just a mistake?"

Well, Deckboss will allow he's certainly committed his quota of mistakes.

I e-mailed the crab fishery manager out in Dutch Harbor and asked him how many boats made deliveries in the most recent snow crab fishery.

His reply: 77.

Hmmm. So is that "upwards of 100" boats or "in the range of fifty"?

I do appreciate the reader's e-mail and promise to hone my figures a little sharper next time.


seattleguy said...

I know people who would rather eat "Snow Crab" over Red King Crab just because of the name. That was a brilliant marketing ploy by somebody.

Scott Heitman said...

Its true, changing the common name tanner crab to Snow Crab was brilliant. The same can be said for changing the common name black cod to a more market friendly sable fish. I believe we can thank ASMI for these changes. Changing the common name of a species to enhance its marketability is a tough row to hoe. Kudos to all that were involved.


Unknown said...

In actuality, the common name of Chionoecetes bairdi has always been Tanner crab, just as the common name of Chionoecetes opilio has always been snow crab. It is sinply that in the last half dozen years or so there has been a concerted effort to use the common rather than the latin names when referring to these species in the media and other publications.

Nothing too unusual about that. We don't go around calling sockeye salmon nerkas, do we?