Agreed to a lower price than hoped for
From Kodiak Daily Mirror
by Kevin Bumgarner
January 29, 2023
Kodiak crabbers are going fishing, even though in the end they didn’t get the prices they originally had hoped for.
On Saturday, the 121 permit holders represented by the Kodiak Crab Alliance Cooperative agreed to separate deals with the processors for which they individually fish. Alaska Pacific Seafoods and Pacific Seafoods are paying $3.35 a pound, Ocean Beauty is paying $3.25 plus profit sharing, and Trident has stayed at $3.25 with no profit sharing.
Crabbers in Chignik, King Cove and Sand Point signed processor agreements about a week ago. But Kodiak crabbers represent the majority of the Westward region’s anticipated harvest of big bairdi Tanners this year — 5.8 million pounds out of the total projected harvest of 7.3 million pounds.
“It was kind of a different situation than we’ve had in recent years,” said Kevin Abena, skipper of the F/V Big Blue and secretary/treasurer for the Kodiak Crab Alliance Cooperative. “It was different in that all the canneries were not at the same price.”
When asked if most Kodiak crabbers were satisfied with the outcome, Abena said: “Well, I think it was a mixture of a lot of different things. [But ultimately] it was a situation where everybody wanted to go fishing.”
And that’s exactly what Abena was preparing to do when reached by the Kodiak Daily Mirror on Sunday afternoon. He said he and his Big Blue crew were in front of Broad Point, about 5 miles from Kodiak. The first pots for Kodiak crabbers will be dropped at noon Monday.
So, what made this year’s negotiations more difficult?
Abena said it was a litany of factors, including a weaker market for the product. However, he said without a doubt it was Trident’s starting point of $2.50 a pound that was the biggest deciding factor.
The scene in Kodiak on Sunday was one of organized chaos. Some crews were getting fresh bait and food, while others were already leaving. Even five miles out of town, Abena said he saw three boats ahead of him and another two off his port side. And, he added: “I bet you there’s more behind me. There’s going to be a steady flow of boats leaving town for the next 24 hours.”
Abena said he thinks that in the next 10 to 14 days 80% of the crab will be caught.
Saturday’s agreement by Kodiak crabbers came a week after meetings on Jan. 20 and Jan. 22 seemed to produce no results. In fact, the alliance adjourned the Jan. 22 meeting without setting a date for another meeting.
Kodiak processors could not be reached for comment, but the Pacific Seafood Processors Association recently made this statement to KDM, while pointing out it is not involved in negotiating or setting prices: “It seems helpful to understand that there is a larger global market for crab that the fishery is subject to,” said PSPA Vice President Nicole Kimball, who works out of Anchorage. “Kodiak processors are not the final market for crab and Alaska makes up less than 1% of the global supply.
“It’s been reported for a while that there is a large carryover inventory from last year, and there is more crab coming into the market shortly from other countries like Russia and Canada, that compete with Alaska crab, which slows demand. Alaska seafood processors are dependent on harvesters and the economic uncertainty affects all of us.”
Part of the difficulty that Kodiak crabbers felt like they were having in their negotiations with local processors was getting a clear understanding of how the decisions were being made.
“I think the plant managers in Kodiak have a voice,” Abena said in a recent interview with the Kodiak Daily Mirror. “Are they the ultimate deciding factor in this? I don’t think so. But we would like to see these guys fight a little more for us. I don’t think that these decisions are coming from our local guys.”
The Kodiak Crab Alliance Cooperative had recently received support from NEA-Alaska, the largest union of public education employees in the state. In an undated letter from Tom Klaameyer, NEA-Alaska president, addressed to Luke Lester, president of the Kodiak Crab Alliance Cooperative, Klaameyer wrote: “I am writing to express our union’s support in your fight to secure a fair price for your catch.” The letter went on to say: “Your commitment and determination are admirable, and I am proud to offer NEA-Alaska’s full support. We stand with you in solidarity until this fight is over.”
Last week, the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce made the following statement: “The Kodiak Chamber of Commerce recognizes the continuing negotiations between processors and harvesters in the 2023 Tanner Crab season. We acknowledge the importance of both harvesters and processors in the Kodiak community and encourage fair and equitable negotiations by all involved for the economic health of the Kodiak region.”
The Westward region’s combined Tanner crab catch this season is expected to be the largest since 1986. It also is now the largest crab fishery in Alaska due to the closures of the Bering Sea red king crab and snow crab fisheries.