Seawatch: Mixed news for crab fishermen

Crab fishermen have received mixed news about the upcoming season in the Bering Sea.

Managers have set the quota for opilio crab at 27.6 million pounds, including 10 percent allotted for Community Development Quotas. That is up nearly 50 percent from last year, but that does not come with bragging rights: the quota last year was the lowest since 1971 and had been dropping precipitously for the prior four years.

While the opilio season opens on Oct. 15 in the Bering Sea, most fishermen do not start keying on them until early January.

In what some are calling good news, the Bristol Bay red king crab season will actually take place, something that was not a given after the fall survey.

The quota will be set at a mere 4.3 million pounds, down 36 percent from last year, and is on a downward trend.

Mature red king crab males dropped more than 40 percent from last year according to the survey, and mature females were down around 54 percent.

As recently as 2014 that quota was still inching up, with a gain of 8 percent that year, and a quota of 10 million pounds. The previous year saw a quota increase of 9 percent, settling at 7.8 million pounds.

The Bering Sea bairdi Tanner crab fishery, which is divided into areas east and west of 166 degrees longitude, will open in the western district with a quota of 2.43 million pounds, down slightly from the 2.5 million pound quota last year.

The eastern district for bairdi is closed again this season.

Fishermen targeting Tanner crab may keep up to 35 percent in opilio crab by weight, while opilio fishermen may keep up to 5 percent of Tanners, both while west of the 166 meridian.

What none of that accounts for are what are becoming increasingly common according to anecdotal reports, which are a hybrid cross between Tanners and opilio.

According to ADF&G area management biologist Miranda Westphal, located in Dutch Harbor, there is a way to tell the difference, but it is mostly up to the crew on deck to sort them out.

Tanner crab have two red eyes and an “M” shaped mouth. Anything else, Westphal said, is considered a snow (opilio) crab.

There is no legal definition of a hybrid, she said, although when they do their sampling they do enumerate them.

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.

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