7.3 million pounds of Tanners is the 2023 quota for the Westward Region; Dungeness also holding strong
Kodiak can lay claim to Alaska’s largest crab fishery with this week’s state announcement of a 5.8 million pound harvest of Tanner crabs set for 2023.
An additional 1.1 million pounds from the Alaska Peninsula and 400,000 pounds at Chignik brings the Westward Region total to 7.3 million pounds of Tanners.
When the fishery kicks off on January 15, it will be the region’s largest crab fishery since 1986 and could see more than 3.32 million individual Tanners cross the local docks.
The 2023 season compares to a regional total of 1.8 million pounds taken in 2022, which also marked a first fishery at Chignik since 2012 and 2013 for the Peninsula.
Crabbers in 2022 also received a record final price of $8.50 per pound for Tanner crab, which weigh 2.2 pounds on average.
That brought more than $15.3 million into the pockets of local fishermen
The increased numbers for the upcoming 2023 Tanner season stem from a huge cohort of crab that state fishery managers have been tracking since 2018.
“It’s robust,” said Nat Nichols, regional shellfish manager at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game at Kodiak. He added that the current estimate for the total Tanner biomass is 261million crabs of all sizes and sexes.
It takes Tanner crabs up to five years to reach legal size. Male crabs are the only ones that can be retained for sale. Nichols said the 2018 year class contains the biggest estimate of legal males in the survey time series that dates back 34 years.
“The estimate at Kodiak is 15.2 million legal male crabs. The previous high was 8.5 million in 2010 stemming from a 2006 recruitment,” Nichols said, adding that they have tracked four big Tanner cohorts in 2001, 2006, 2013 and 2018.
He said that the biggest difference with the group of 2018 crab recruits is that they survived better than the other cohorts.
“Yes, it was the biggest we’ve ever seen but not actually by a lot. It seems that they’ve kind of experienced the set of conditions that were really beneficial to them and allowed them to turn into this big estimate of legal crab. But nothing about it is particularly off the charts or surprising if you go back and look at all the numbers,” Nichols said.
He explained that ocean conditions really took a toll on the 2013 stock of Tanners.
“During the mid-teens as they were maturing, we had particularly warm water in the Gulf of Alaska and a lot of predators. They got eaten probably at a higher rate. The timing of this 2018 group just seems fortuitous. They hit the water at a time when not only were there a lot fewer predators, because cod numbers were way down in 2017 and 2018, but also the temperatures were returning closer to normal,” Nichols said.
The current crop of crabs entering the fishery also has a broader range of size classes which indicates a likelihood of at least two years of “back to back” recruitment, Nichols said.
However, no notable spikes have been seen since the 2018 cohort appeared in the annual summer trawl survey.
“It’s concerning from the point that you really like to see recruitment into the system because that’s what’s going to be your adult animals in five years or so.It also fits into this pattern where we now have four of these big recruitment eventsevery five to seven yearsand we’re seeing kind of higher highs and lower lows,” Nichols said. “This is the first year that we expected that we might see a new signal. We’re seeing more crab than last year, but it’s not that big spike yet. So maybe in the 2023 or 2024 surveys …we’re just along for the ride.”
There are 179 limited entry permits available for the Kodiak Tanner crab fishery: 41 for boats measuring up to 120 feet and 138 permits for boats under 60 feet. The boosted quota means the pot limit is increased for the first time since 2006 from 20 to 30 pots.
The fisheries at Chignik and the South Peninsula are open to all comers but limited to vessels 50-feet or less.
The state will start issuing 2023 Tanner permit cards in late November. Nichols said. He added that the Kodiak ADF&G office has bullet lists of information for the fishery along with packets showing information from the 2021 survey locations.
Kodiak Dungeness crab catches also holding strong
Dungeness crab catches at Kodiak are tracking better than expected.
The fishery opened in May and a few days before the October 31 end of the season, the catch was at 2.26 million pounds. That compares to 1.9 million pounds of Dungies taken in 2022.
This year’s crabs also were some of the heftiest ever at 2.26 pounds, up from 2.06 pounds in 2021.
“There seems to be some ocean conditions that Dungeness crab are finding favorable,” Nichols speculated. “They’re generally a more near shore, shallow water species and whether they’re finding that their feed is enjoying the warmer temperatures or they themselves don’t mind the warmer temperatures – I’m not sure what it is. I thought we were going to catch and be done with them for a while. But they’ve been doing well for the last few years and they seem to have more legs than I gave them credit for.”
On the downside, Dungeness prices have tanked this year to the $2.25-$2.50 per pound range. That compares to a record $4.35 in 2021 making the fishery worth $8.3 million at the Kodiak docks.