Bering Sea snow crab declared a “fishery resource disaster” by feds

It's a "fishery resource disaster," but NPFMC boosts trawl crab bycatch; claims restrictions on "human activity" are "useless."

by | May 21, 2024

NPFMC boosted trawl snow crab bycatch to +4 million crabs for 2024/2025 as part of “stock rebuilding plan”

The Secretary of Commerce has determined that a fishery resource disaster occurred in Alaska’s 2023–2024 Bering Sea snow crab fishery. The determination is in response to requests from Saint Paul Mayor Jacob Merculief and Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy.

The May 17 announcement said: “Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo, working with NOAA Fisheries, evaluates each fishery resource disaster request based primarily on data submitted by the requesting official. A fishery resource disaster determination must meet specific requirements under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. For example, there must be economic impacts and an unexpected large decrease in fish stock biomass or other change. These impacts result in significant loss of access to the fishery resource resulting from specific allowable causes due to the fishery resource disaster event.

This positive determination makes these fisheries eligible for disaster assistance from NOAA. Fishery participants may also qualify for disaster assistance from the Small Business Administration.”

Snow crab decline called “unprecedented” – trawl bycatch boosted

That is how one of NOAA’s lead crab experts, Mike Litzow at Kodiak, summed up the Alaska snow crab crash in an October 2023 presentation to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees the Bering Sea fisheries.

But even prior to hearing Litzow’s presentation, the NPFMC released its proposed crab bycatch allowances for 2024 and 2025 – which increases the bycatch numbers across the board.

For snow crab, the allowable trawl bycatch for each of the next two years would be 4,350,000 animals, up from 3,623,201 crabs for the past two years.

Snow crab 10 year rebuilding plan does not include bycatch

When the Bering Sea snow crab fishery was closed in 2022, the NPFMC was required to create a 10 year rebuilding plan to comply with federal fisheries laws. The plan had to be in place prior to the start of the 2023/2024 fishing season for groundfish in Alaska waters.

According to the initial environmental assessment of the Rebuilding Plan for Eastern Bering Sea Snow Crab released on November 10, 2022: “The main driver in speed of rebuilding for this stock is not fishing mortality, rather it is likely related to recruitment and the conditions that allow for increased recruitment into the population, such as the Arctic Oscillation and physical indicators including, but not limited to, temperature, sea ice extent, resource availability, and predator-prey relationships.”

 “No measures to modify Eastern Bering Sea snow crab bycatch management in the groundfish fisheries are included in this rebuilding analysis.”
“Any restrictions on human activity ‘are considered effectively useless.’”
NPFMC, NOVEMBER 2022

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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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