Bids sought for Tanner crab test fishery

Lobbying from Cordova residents has prompted the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to set up a test fishery for Tanner crab in Prince William Sound.

Assistant area management biologist Maria Wessel said the primary driver for the test fishery has been industry.

“Industry here in Cordova lobbied our mayor, and the mayor lobbied the governor, and between the governor and the commissioner of Fish and Game we were directed to run this test fishery to find out what kind of abundance is out there,” she said.

Landings in the Prince William Sound Tanner crab commercial fishery declined from a peak of 13.9 million pounds in the 1971-72 season to approximately 474,092 pounds in the1988 season. 

That was the last time the fishery took place.

The long closure has been due to low abundance demonstrated in earlier pot surveys and the current biennial trawl survey. 

Wessel said that around 2011 and 2012 the trawl surveys showed the largest abundance of legal males since the trawl surveys started in 1991. 

More recent surveys have shown less abundance. 

“While it’s most certainly up from when the fishery crashed, we’re not seeing numbers that seem like they would support a commercial fishery.

“That being said, there is plenty of habitat out there that is inaccessible by trawl, and that’s what the fishermen are thinking, and we don’t disagree with them.”

She said that people participating in the subsistence fishery for Tanner crab that has been going on since 2008 have been experiencing more success in recent years.

The department is accepting bids from vessels who want to conduct the test fishery, which will involve two individual lots of 300 pot pulls each, with all legal male crab from these pots being sold. 

That is where the funding will come from for the project, although the state will be funding 100 percent observer coverage on the vessel.

“That’s kind of the extent of the state’s financial commitment,” Wessel said.

The objectives of the test fishery are to determine the distribution of Tanner crab outside the current trawl survey locations and in historical survey and commercial fishery locations, as well as to determine the number of pre-recruits, recruits and post-recruits, and females.

Biological data also will be collected.

Bids must be received by noon on Feb. 16. Bid packets are available at the Homer and Cordova offices of ADF&G.

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

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