No boats dropped pots on January 15 crab opener
Not a single crab boat from Kodiak, the Alaska Peninsula or Chignik broke ranks to drop pots for a harvest of 7.3 million pounds of big bairdi Tanners when the fishery opened on January 15.
The stand down by the fleet of nearly 170 vessels stems from the crabbers’ refusal to accept a price of $2.50 a pound from four local processors: Trident, Alaska Pacific Seafoods, Ocean Beauty and Pacific Seafoods.
“We have solidarity among all groups,” said Kevin Abena of Kodiak, skipper of the F/V Big Blue and secretary and treasurer for the Kodiak Crab Alliance Cooperative (KCAC) which represents 121 permit holders.
The crab alliance called the low price offer “unfair,” and “unreasonable,” Abena said, adding that “to have all four processors come back with the same price is shocking.”
“I wish they’d just come out and tell us they don’t want the crab,” he said.
Attempts to reach local processors were unsuccessful.
The Westward region’s combined Tanner crab catch this season is 7.3 million pounds, 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.
In 2022 the crabbers received a record final price of $8.50 per pound for 1.8 million pounds of Tanner crab, which weigh 2.2 pounds on average. That brought more than $15.3 million into the pockets of local fishermen.
Abena said the crabbers realize that such a high price is not realistic this season due to less favorable market conditions.
But they called the $2.50 price offer a “slap in the face for such an excellent crab product” – especially since smaller Tanner crab from the Bering Sea are fetching a base price of $3.70 per pound from Unisea in Dutch Harbor.
Fishermen there also are guaranteed a retroactive boost for their two million pound crab harvest after sales are made. That will bring their final price to about $4.00 per pound.
Abena said Unisea will take all the Tanners they can get. Peter Pan Seafoods at King Cove also is negotiating for the crab that would be delivered by as many as 50 local boats.
“Our Tanners are more than one inch larger than the Bering Sea crab,” Abena said, meaning they produce bigger and more desirable 12-ounce leg sections on average.
The cooperative is now securing tenders to take the local crab to Dutch Harbor and potentially King Cove.
“It’s sad for the community that every bit of this crab could be walking out of town,” Abena said. “But we are not going fishing for $2.50 a pound.”
And the crabbers are not facing a time crunch. The Tanner crab fishery can remain open by regulation until March 31.
Abena said the earliest anyone might go fishing is January 18.