Tanner catches likely to be lower; ADF&G will announce in early November
Kodiak fishermen can plan on dropping pots for Tanner crab in January 2024 – and likely in 2025 – although the catches are projected to be less than the 5.8 million pounds taken this past January.
The Westward region’s combined total in 2023, which includes the South Peninsula and Chignik, added up to 7.3 million pounds, making it the largest Tanner harvest since 1986.
A fishery also is likely at the South Peninsula in 2024 although Chignik “is a question mark,” said Nat Nichols, regional shellfish manager at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Kodiak.
Fishery managers are still crunching the numbers from the summer Tanner crab survey, he said, and an announcement on the upcoming harvests will be made in early November. There will be a reduced 20 pot limit per boat, he added.
Fishermen have been tapping on the largest Tanner crab cohort ever seen that first appeared in 2018. It takes four to five years for the male crabs to reach legal size. Only male Tanners can be retained for sale and all other crabs must immediately be returned to the water unharmed.
“It’s been tracking nicely, but those crabs are getting older and kind of dwindling as they’ve been fished on for the past two seasons and also dying of old age,” Nichols said. “A lot of them will be ‘dirtier’ (darker) than last year as they are wearing the last shells of their lives. Last season they were in prime, clean condition because it was the first year the crabs had newly molted.”
Large Tanner crab cohorts typically occur every five to seven years around Kodiak, as indicated by 2013 and 2018 year classes that sustained fisheries for several years. And this year’s survey saw a “pretty good signal for recruits,” Nichols said. “I’m hopeful this is a signal before we see the big pop.”
“I’m cautiously optimistic that our pattern of cyclical recruitment continues. This is what Kodiak does,” he said. He added that the pre-recruits in this summer’s survey were some of the smallest ever seen but that they could be “the front edge of a bigger group.”
Looking ahead, Nichols said fisheries for 2026 and 2029 “could be scratchy.” He added: If there is a big improvement, we could start ramping up on the next Tanner crab cohort as early 2028.”
Last January, 133 boats participated in Kodiak’s Tanner fishery (up from 88 the previous year), with 50 boats at the South Peninsula and 14 at Chignik.
The average price paid to fishermen was $3.35 per pound for the crabs which average 2.2 pounds, making the fishery worth nearly $20 million at the Kodiak docks.
Tanners with a capital T
Note that Tanner crab is spelled with a capital T because it is named after Zera Luther Tanner, commander of the research vessel Albatross, which explored Alaska waters in the 1800s
Zera Luther Tanner
Kodiak Dungeness crab also doing good
Kodiak’s Dungeness crab fishery also has been producing well and catches could reach 1.8 million pounds by 16 vessels when the season ends on October 31.
That surpasses last year’s harvest of 1.5 million pounds but is less than fisheries from 2020 to 2022 when catches were near or topped two million pounds.
“I expected a downturn and I’m surprised that the harvest has held up,” Nat Nichols said. He added that for Dungeness, the sustained catches “are more a function of fishing effort than higher crab recruitment as with Tanners.”
“When we have a couple years of good fishing, it attracts more attention. I would’ve thought we’d fish that group down a bit, but it’s produced over a million pounds for several years. I’m happy to be wrong about that,” he added.
Dungeness crabs, which weigh just over two pounds on average, yield “a low density fishery” with average pot pulls producing only about eight crabs.
Catches at the South Peninsula have reached 467,805 pounds by 13 boats; at Chignik three boats have pulled up 92,744 of Dungies so far.
The price to fishermen has held steady since the fishery opened in May at $1.85 per pound.
Sea cucumbers “not happening”
Fisheries for sea cucumbers, considered a delicacy in Asian markets, are simply “not happening.” The season at Kodiak opens on October 1 and runs through April but no one so far has registered for the fishery.
“I’ve had a few phone calls and some tire kicking by people who have not been consistent participants in the past. It’s the least amount of interest in 10 years,” Nat Nichols said, “Markets are the issue in general. Reportedly, they were bad last year, and worse this year.
Sea cucumbers are harvested by divers and the Kodiak fishery attracted just three participants last year. Typically, closer to 20 divers would take the plunge.
Prices to divers in past years were in the $4 per pound range for eviscerated cukes (called “poke weight)” and reached $5 in 2018.
“Divers could take 10,000 to 15,000 pounds in two days, which added up to a nice pay day,” Nichols said.
Kodiak’s 2023/24 sea cucumber harvest limit is 100,000 pounds, plus 20,000 pounds at the South Peninsula and 15,000 pounds at Chignik.