NPFMC tackles the crab crisis
Commercial crab crews normally embarked on the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery are on the docks in October with their fishery closed for lack of sufficient stocks, while federal fisheries managers consider how to restore the fishery. abundance required for the harvest to resume in the seasons to come.
During its October meeting, held virtually due to the ongoing pandemic, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Board voted to request an analysis of the likely impacts of expanding the King Crab Savings Zone. red through an emergency rule to move the northern limit from 57 ° 00.0 ‘N to 57 ° 30.0’ N.
The council asked staff to assess the immediate conservation benefits for female red king crab and whether an emergency rule would improve the likelihood of a directed red king crab fishery in 2022 under the rule criteria. NOAA emergency. The analysis should also include an assessment of the impacts such a closure would have on catches of red king crab and other species and harvests of groundfish species to the extent possible.
Jamie Goen, executive director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, agreed the scan needs to be done, but is concerned about the timing. It will be a tight fit to get a regulation implemented to expand the Red King Crab Savings Zone at the December council meeting in time to keep the groundfish fishery, which begins Jan. 20, outside. critical crab areas, she said. The Amendment 80 fleet will fish for yellowfin in an area where king crab moults and mates in January and this concerns them, although they say they are delighted that the council has started to move forward in their efforts. to help the crab.
“Overall, we believe that fixed closures are not the best approach to reduce bycatch of prohibited species that move in response to changing environmental conditions,” said Chris Woodley, Executive Director of the Groundfish Forum, where he is responsible for promoting fisheries regulation policies. Woodley, a retired Coast Guard captain, said the Groundfish Forum was concerned about the ABSC’s request to increase the existing fixed closure area based on the National Marine Fisheries Service investigation of the summer 2021.
The red king crab generally moves seasonally and appears to move more now in response to rapidly changing environmental conditions, he noted. The distribution of red king crab next January could be very different from that of the summer survey, and if the proposed closure north of the red king crab savings area is in place, it could actually force fishing for the red king crabs. flatfish in an area with more red king crab, perhaps also like halibut, than it would otherwise, he noted.
In the staff duties section of the council meeting, witnesses included commercial fisherman Jim Stone, who is a member of ABSC as well as the Bering Sea Pot Cod Cooperative.
Stone said he does not allow his boat, the Polar Sea, to fish on the bottom where the king crab lives, but many other members of the cod fleet did not share his feelings.
“The large amount of king crab bycatch by the cod fleet over the past five years or so could have been completely avoided by not fishing in the king crab areas,” he told the council. “These cod boats fish in the near shore trawl area and in the red king crab spares area. They are both prolific with king crab.
Stone said he recommended an emergency closure of the cod fishery in the inshore trawl-free zone and at a minimum in the red king crab spares zone. “The emergency shutdown really should be at the very bottom east of Amak Island,” he said. “A voluntary withdrawal from the red king crab savings zone is not enough. It must be on all king crab bottoms. This bycatch problem also highlights the need for a cod catch sharing program, with strong bycatch limits to encourage avoidance of all low abundance species.
Ed Poulsen, owner of a quota share in the Bering Sea crab fisheries and also co-owner of two Bering Sea crab fishing vessels, had a different point of view.
The closure of the red king crab fishery and the impact on the snow crab fishery appears to be due to the environment and is unlikely to be due to directed fishing or bycatch with regards to the crab decline, did he declare.
That said, all removals should be considered for both stocks, because unfortunately every crab counts now, he said.
“I would like to see each sector make a voluntary effort to reduce its crab bycatch and reduce the potential for mortality, or institute emergency measures,” he said. “The recent bycatch of red king crab in cod fisheries is worrying. This is not the first time this has happened and there is too much effort surrounding the known abundance of red king crab. I believe this area can catch a lot of cod if it concentrates its fishery west of Amak and volunteers to close the fishery east of there.
Poulsen said he would encourage the Amendment 80 sector to expand the king red crab savings zone 30 nautical miles to the north. “It appears to be an area of female king crab congregation recently.
Ideally, a winter survey would take place next year to identify areas of abundance for red king crab so that trawlers can voluntarily stay out of these areas.
Poulsen added that he would like the pollock industry to also voluntarily stay outside the red king crab savings zone, and he would ask the two sectors to work with crabbers and the NMFS on unobserved mortality in the red crab. red king crab.
As for the waning snow crab abundance, Poulsen said he was very uncomfortable with the level of effort the Pollock factory trawler fleet during Season B compared to areas of high abundance of male and female snow crabs. “The fact that these vessels fish in areas of high snow crab abundance with nets on the bottom sometimes and there is no bycatch makes me scratch my head,” he said. “There just isn’t any accounting for it.”
Poulsen urged the council to urge trawl sectors to report that there are potential risks of unobserved mortality to crab, especially during moulting periods. The status quo, he said, “no longer works.”