Two of AK’s smallest, most lucrative fisheries set to open

Scallops range from SE AK to the Bering Sea; golden kings are the deepest crab fishery along the Aleutian Chain.

by | June 21, 2023

Filed Under Catch Updates | crab | Management

Scallops, golden king crab shared by few boats

Credit: Smart Source Seafood

One of Alaska’s smallest and priciest fisheries gets underway on July 1 – weathervane scallops.

The fishery occurs from Yakutat to the Bering Sea and can run through mid-February. Weathervanes are the largest scallops in the world and can take five years to reach a marketable shell size of about five inches.

Only one or two boats fish for scallops in Alaska. Their harvest for the 2023/24 season is increased slightly to 374,700 pounds of shucked meats, which are the adductor muscles that keeps the shells closed. Most of the catch -190,000 pounds – will be taken around Kodiak Island, where the boats are homeported.  

The scallop fishery is very labor intensive as it includes catching and processing, said Nat Nichols, area shellfish manager at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game in Kodiak.

“It also takes a lot of manpower, with crews of  12 people that are shucking by hand. Every Alaska scallop you’ve ever seen was shucked by hand,” Nichols added.

The scallop boats drop big dredges comprising four inch rings to keep out smaller sizes. They make tows along mostly sandy bottoms of strictly defined fishing regions. The fishery is co-managed with the federal government and has 100 percent observer coverage and strict limits for crab taken as bycatch.

Scallops provide a big pay day for the skippers and crew. The first wholesale price last season as reported by the Alaska Scallop Association increased from $11.06/lb. to $13.56/ lb., a 22.6% increase.

That led to a total gross first wholesale value increase from $3.304 million to $4.462 million, a 35.05% increase.

The two vessels that fished in the 2021/22 season with an assumed maximum of 12 crew and 42% crew share allocation of gross revenue resulted in a potential crew share increase from $57,824 to $78,094 in 2022/23.

Golden crab delivers big money

The golden king crab fishery along the Aleutian Islands will open to Alaska-Native operated CDQ groups on July 1. That will be followed by a full opener on August 1 for others who hold quota shares of the crab.

A fleet of just five boats drop pots for golden king crab, which has a catch limit for the 2023/2024 season of 5.53 million pounds from two fishing regions. The boats can remain at sea for a month or more through the season which ends on April 30.

Golden king crab are regarded as Alaska’s most stable crab fishery. The crab live at depths of 1,800 feet or more amid underwater mountain ranges, five times deeper than waters for red king crab. Unlike other crab fisheries, the golden crab fleet longlines their pots to keep them from getting lost.

Last season, gold king crab prices to fishermen increased by 61% to $12.20 per pound, making the fishery worth nearly $72 million at the docks.  

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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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