Seawatch: Tanner crab season wraps up

The Bering Sea tanner crab season, the only one that was open this season after the closure of the snow crab and king crab fisheries, wrapped up at the end of March with only 17 boats fishing.

There were only 2 million pounds on the table in both the eastern and western districts, and according to a story from Alaska Public Media, the size average of the crab was smaller than in prior years due to the processors agreeing to buy the smaller crab.

Ethan Nichols, assistant area management biologist for ADF&G in Unalaska, told APM, “Vessels were targeting and retaining crabs that were smaller than the industry-preferred size of 5 inches, but still perfectly legal to retain, and that was somewhat to make up for the lack of snow crab coming out of the Bering Sea.”

Fishing happened throughout the season, he said.

“Some boats caught their quota in the fall. Some caught it in the spring,” Nichols said. “Overall, the fishery performance was pretty good.”

The snow crab fishery was closed this year for the first time in its history. After a drastic drop in population, the stock has been declared “overfished.” The red king crab fishery was also canceled this season, for the second year in a row, due to a low and struggling population.

The hit to the Bering Sea crab fishery has fostered a federal disaster declaration, which Alaska’s congressional delegation has been trying to fast-track, but many other fisheries disaster declarations in Alaska and other states have languished for years in the federal system, causing bankruptcy for many.

As for next season, Nichols said results from an upcoming federal trawl survey this summer will help determine how the crab populations are doing, and whether any of the fisheries will be able to open.

Some other crab fisheries on the other side of the Alaska Peninsula have been seeing success.

The Makushin/Skan Bay section of the smaller Eastern Aleutian tanner crab fishery opened over the winter for the first time in five years.

One vessel participated in the commercial fishery off Unalaska Island, catching about 49,000 pounds of crab, Nichols said.

He said there are signs that the section’s tanner population is doing well. When it was surveyed last year, the stock had nearly doubled since 2021, reaching its highest level since 2005.

“So we’re seeing increases in abundance in the Makushin/Skan Bay section over the last several years,” Nichols said. “And we’re optimistic that we might be able to have small fisheries for next year, as well.”

Nichols said results from an upcoming state trawl survey will help determine whether the section will open again next season.

The Eastern Aleutian fishery also has two other sections — Unalaska/Kalekta Bay and Akutan — that remained closed this winter. Nichols said those sections haven’t opened in at least a decade because the stocks don’t have enough mature male crab to allow for commercial fishing.

However, the Kodiak tanner crab fishery went fairly fast, other than the two week strike that kept fishermen solidly united and staying tied up over a price dispute. The entire Alaska Peninsula/Kodiak fishery had a combined quota of 5.8 million pounds, from King Cove to Kodiak, and fishermen were initially offered $2.50 per pound, but settled with processors for $3.25-$3.35, and caught the bulk of the quota in about 10 days. The previous Kodiak tanner season fetched prices of $8.30 per pound.

Cristy Fry can be reached at