Kodiak crabbers get jaw-dropping price for Tanners

Up to $8.50 per pound! That's the final price paid to Kodiak crabbers for Tanners in a fishery that opened on January 15.

by | January 17, 2022

Filed Under Catch Updates

High crab prices have led all other seafoods during the Covid pandemic. Buyers grabbed all they can to fill demand at buffet tables, restaurants and retail counters around the world. That was a boon for Kodiak crabbers.

“Our strategy was to get a price before the season even started. It’s simply bad business to go fishing without a price,” said Peter Longrich, secretary of the 74 member Kodiak Crab Alliance Cooperative which negotiated the deal with local processors.

Fishermen will drop pots for a combined total of 1.8 million pounds. 1.1 million pounds were earmarked for Kodiak crabbers, 500,000 pounds for the South Peninsula and 200,000 pounds at Chignik.

The price compares to $4.25/lb paid in 2020 for a 400,000 pound harvest and $4.40/lb in 2019 for 615,000 pounds. There was no Tanner fishery in 202. Crabbers waited for more mature male crabs to grow into the fishery. Those larger crabs are the only ones that can be retained for sale. The legal crabs weigh over two pounds on average.

The waiting pays off

Local biologists have been tracking one of the largest cohorts of Tanners ever seen since 2018 throughout the westward region.  It appears to be two big year classes with a broad range of sizes. This could mean several years of fishing, said Nat Nichols, area manager for the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game at Kodiak.

“A Tanner crab is getting to be legal size around age four or five. Then they start to die of natural causes or age out of the population by around seven or eight. Once they start to become legal, we can expect them to hang around for potentially three years. There’ll be more small crab behind them. So you can kind of think of this as the front edge,” Nichols said.

ADF&G expects the fishery to go fast. Three factors will determine the duration: the number of boats, good or scratchy hauls and weather. A total of 85 fishing crews signed up for the fishery at Kodiak. Forty-seven signed up at the South Peninsula and 14 at Chignik. Nichols said the opener could be as short as three days or it might last about a week.

Get out the measuring stick

Crabbers can expect a lot of measuring, he said. A large group of crab are going to be “just short of the stick this year,” he added

“Those are next year’s crabs and we want to handle them carefully and get them back in the water,” he said. “There will be a lot of sorting and if a pot has 30 or 40 legal male keepers in it, it may have 300 or 400 sub-legal males and females mixed in there.”

The webbing in the pots also will add to the workload.

“If you have a groundfish pot that’s converted to a Tanner pot and it’s got small, three inch web or something like that, the only way for non-target crab to get out is to find one of the four escape rings. So that pot is likely to have quite a bit of juvenile and female crab in it,” Nichols explained. “If you have a pot with web that’s really big mesh, a lot of that small crab is going to walk right through and you’ll end up with a pot that’s a lot cleaner.”

Keep the pots in place

Another factor is how long the pots are soaked.

“If you’re turning the pots twice a day, you’re not really giving the crab enough time to filter out of the escape mechanisms. Whereas if you only pull it once a day, potentially crab have up to 24 hours to find one of those rings and get out of the pot. Cleaner fishing is better for everyone and those escaped crab are for the next few years of fishing. It’s the future of the resource.” Nichols added.

Fishermen in Alaska must use biodegradable twine in their pots to allow crabs to escape in the event of lost gear.

The crab association also plans to try and market the catch as Kodiak Tanner crab highlighting the facts that it is bigger than Tanners from other Alaska regions and caught by local fishermen.

Tagged as: Crab

About Laine

Laine Welch has covered the Alaska fish beat for print and radio since 1988. She also has worked “behind the counter” at retail and wholesale seafood companies in Kodiak and on Cape Cod.

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