Bristol Bay red king crab fishery set for quota hike

The Bristol Bay red king crab season scheduled to get under way Oct. 15 is set for another increase, rising 14 percent, from 8.6 million pounds last season to 10 million pounds this year, including 10 percent for community development quotas. 

The quota was up 9 percent last year, from 7.8 million pounds.

The St. Matthews blue king crab season will re-open this year with a cautious quota of 655,000 pounds, after being closed last year.

That fishery has been fairly variable since re-opening in 2010 after a ten year hiatus with a 1.6 million pound quota, rising to 2.4 million pounds in 2011, and falling back to 1.6 million in 2012 before last season’s closure.

The Pribilof Islands red and blue king crab fisheries remain closed. They last opened in 1998.

While not available at press time, the opilio quota is expected to rise after dropping to 54 million pounds last season falling from a high of 89 million pounds in 2010.

Raw data presented at the fishermen’s meeting in September showed that mature males increased from 58,000 tons to more than 105,000 tons, and the level of male recruits increased 40 percent to more than 140,000 tons. 

There was speculation that a 2 degree Celsius rise in Bering Sea water temperatures drove more crab into the survey areas looking for cooler water.

That matches what fishermen were speculating after the quota cut last season, when catches per pot were much higher than they should have been if the biomass were down, and there were so many mature males that some boats quit bothering to sort the crab for females and undersized males.

That also matches the model predicted in 2012, but which did not pan out last season.

Explaining the unexpected drop in quota last year, Doug Pengilly of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game told fishermen, “The model is apparently trying to carry through crab that showed up in 2010 at smaller sizes, and keeps them coming through. They didn’t show up this year, but the model is saying, ‘They’re coming through.’” 

Although ADF&G used different data to determine the quota last year, they did not throw out the formula.

“Maybe the model’s right,” Pengilly said. “There is a possibility.”

Signs are pointing to that being correct.

Cristy Fry has commercial fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at