Story last updated at 11/11/2009 - 11:53 am
Kodiak and Alaska Peninsula crabbers got some good news last week-bigger catch quotas for bairdi Tanner crab, a mid-January fishery that is important to local economies. Bairdi are the larger cousins of the better-known opilio Tanners, or snow crab.
The bairdi boost stems from a big pulse of new crab recruits that biologists have been tracking for years.
"That is what's fueling the increase in the harvest this year. We're just getting the very beginning of that year class," said Nick Sagalkin, regional manager at ADF&G in Kodiak.
It takes five to six years for crabs to mature to market size, and only male crabs are taken. Sagalkin said the Tanner resurgence is looking even better than expected around Kodiak and southward.
"It's actually slightly ahead of where I thought it would be," he said.
The fact that the 2010 fishery will yield mostly new recruits that have just molted into the fishery is good news for buyers. With crab, it is the appearance of the shells that sells.
"Most of these crab should be new shell, very nice, clean looking crab," Sagalkin predicted.
"That's really positive news," said market expert John Sackton. "The key to the traditional bairdi market in Japan is that when it is clean and large and bright colored, it's a wonderful premium crab product and people are very excited to get it."
Sackton cautioned that the lack of volume could dampen sales interest in Japan, but said more niche markets are eager to buy bairdi Tanner crab.
Kodiak crabbers usually average above $2 per pound for their Tanners, with Peninsula crab fetching about a dollar less. The Kodiak 2010 crab harvest is set at 700,000 pounds (up from 500,000), Chignik remains closed, and the Alaska Peninsula crab quota is a half million pounds (up from 275,000) with the eastern section opening for the first time in a decade.
Nick Sagalkin said low prices for cod fish is likely to attract more crabbers this winter. He predicts Tanner crab will be a good fishery throughout the region for years to come.
"A lot depends on Mother Nature," he said, "but I'd expect the quotas to go up a little bit more next year."
Tanner crab fisheries also occur in the Bering Sea starting in mid-October and throughout Southeast Alaska in February. The combined catches will likely yield less than four million pounds.
On a related note: Tanner crab is spelled with a capital T and here's why: the crab was discovered by and named after Lieutenant Zera Luther Tanner, commander of the research vessel Albatross, which explored Alaska waters from 1888 to 1893.
Red kings wrap up
Less than three weeks into the fishery, the fleet of 70 boats targeting Bristol Bay red king crab had taken more than half of their 16 million pound quota. That is slightly behind last year's pace when 77 boats were dropping pots, said regional manager Forrest Bowers at ADF&G in Dutch Harbor.
The shell quality is good, Bowers said, but the crabs are slightly smaller this year, averaging just over six pounds. Fishermen are getting an advance price of $4.40 per pound for king crab, down from $5 per pound last year. The Bristol Bay fishery will likely end around Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, for the first time in a decade, five boats are fishing for one million pounds of blue king crab way out west at St. Matthew Island.
Longtime fisherman and fisheries advocate Linda Behnken of Sitka will be recognized as a Highliner of the Year by National Fisherman at Pacific Marine Expo this month in Seattle. Behnken "understands the intimate connection between communities and ecosystems," said NF editor Jerry Fraser in announcing the honor.
Now in its 41st year, Expo is going stronger than ever, said organizer Bob Callahan, and neither the internet nor the global recession has cut into the annual event.
"The good news is the show has felt no ill effects from the economy. We have 425 exhibiting companies taking over 55,000 square feet, and we have 65 new companies on the show floor," Callahan said.
Trade shows provide important things to show-goers that they won't find on the internet, he added.
"You just can't experience a product first hand, and see it and touch it," Callahan said. "Most importantly, at a trade show you're experiencing the personality of the person you're going to buy from. That enables the buyer to gain a sense of trust in the company and the product. That will always give a trade show an advantage over internet shopping."
Highlights this year include an Authors' Corner, a floor showing of the movie "Black Waves: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez," and an Alaska fishermen's photo contest in which a People's Choice will be selected from more than 500 entries.
The Expo happy hour will be back each day by popular demand, Callahan said, with drawings for tickets to sports events. Attendees who pre-register on line also will be eligible to win American Express gift cards valued at $500.
Expo is set for Nov. 19-21 at the Qwest Center in Seattle. Find the full line up and pre-register at http://www.pacificmarineexpo.com/.
Help raise fish funds
The Alaskan Leader Fisheries Foundation has launched an annual drive to raise $100,000 or more for non-profits in Kodiak and Bristol Bay communities. ALFF also has started a partnership program that that will allow givers to make annual or one-time tax deductible gifts.
The ALFF was founded in 2000 by six Kodiak fishing families and joined by the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation in 2007. ALFF so far has donated nearly $300,000 to local programs. Contacts are Linda Kozak at email@example.com or 907-539-5585, and Christine Jasmin at 206-965-1881 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. Her weekly Fish Factor column appears in a dozen newspapers and web outlets. Her daily Fish Radio programs air on 27 stations around Alaska. Welch lives in Kodiak.