Illegally caught crab dragging prices down

Preseason warnings of depressed prices for Bristol Bay red king crab brought on largely by a continued influx of illegal Russian crab in both Japan and the United States are coming true as the advance price of $7.25 per pound comes in more than $3 per pound less than last year’s final settlement.
Public radio station KUCB in Unalaska reported last month that Jake Jacobsen, director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange which repre-sents much of the Bering Sea crab fleet, noted that the 2012 dockside prices weren’t expected to exceed last year’s record levels, even though the quota is roughly the same.     
About half of the Bering Sea’s king crab is exported to Japan, and Jacobsen said that even though currency conditions are favorable the prices there are lower because of shady competition.
“There’s a tremendous amount of Russian crab on the market, most of which is illegally caught,” Jacobsen told KUCB.
While there are treaties in place to limit illegal fishing, they are not being aggressively enforced, he said.
“The Japanese government and regulatory officials have been fairly complacent with it because they make so much money off of it,” Jacobsen said. “The Japanese crab industry makes a tremendous profit from illegal fishing in Russia.”
Jacobsen said that the domestic market also is being affected by the influx of illegal Russian crab, estimating that there are three illegal crab on the market for every one crab caught legally.
The problem is huge. According to The Krai, an online magazine based in Russia’s Far East, the 2005 king crab quota in Russia’s Pacific waters was just 500 metric tons, while actual landings were 25,000 metric tons.
In the case of snow crab, the magazine said, the quota that year was 15,000 metric tons, however, 39,000 metric tons were exported to Japan.
There was much speculation in 2010 that the days of Russian crab poaching were ending when Moscow police arrested Arkady Gontmakher, owner of Global Fishing, a Seattle company that was thought to be the largest single U.S. importer of Russian king crab. According to Russian authorities, Gontmakher allegedly exported about 15,000 metric tons of illegal king crab worth an estimated $200 million.
However, others have filled in the gap.
A substantial drop in the Bristol Bay quota applied considerable upward pressure on the price last year.
The quota dropped 47 percent going into the 2011 season, making it a scarce commodity, pushing the price above the $10 per pound mark.
The average price paid for Bristol Bay red king crab in 2010 was $6.28 per pound, according the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Crabbers also are reporting that the average size per crab has taken a leap, from 6.3 pounds per crab last season to 6.8 pounds per crab this year.

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is holding a photo contest to help promote Alaska’s seafood species around the world, with the grand prize winners in each category taking home a new iPad, first place winners, an ASMI dry bag duffel; and second place winners, an ASMI sweatshirt.
The categories are best family photo, fish photo, scenic or boat photo, action photo and humor or historic photo.
ASMI asks that the fish in the photos are of commercially harvested species, not subsistence-only or sport-only species.
They also note that they are seeking to enhance the value of the fisheries through compelling photography of Alaska fisheries, and that not all aspects of fishing are “pretty.” Photos featuring blood running down a fish are not what they are looking for. However, they do allow slight re-touching.
For complete contest rules and instructions for submissions, go to
Dutch Harbor once again walked away with the title of largest seafood port in the nation in terms of volume in 2011, an honor it has taken for the past 15 years, most of it due to the pollock fishery.
NOAA reports that Dutch Harbor landed 706 million pounds of seafood, valued at $207 million, far out-pacing the second place port of New Bedford, Massachusetts at 117 million pounds. However, New Bedford landings were valued at $369 million.
That put New Bedford first the nation in landings by dollar amount for the twelfth year in a row, mostly as a result of the scallop fishery.
Other Alaska ports that made the list included the Port of Kodiak, which landed 372 million pounds, valued at $168 million, and Akutan, which landed 431 million pounds, valued at $114 million.
Seafood landings in the U.S. reached a 17-year high, partly as a result of the fish stock rebuilding regulations set forth in the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
Commercial fishermen landed 10.1 billion pounds of fish and shellfish in 2011 with a value of $5.3 billion, up 1.9 billion pounds and $784 million over 2010.

Female red king crab from the Juneau area will be the subject of a study to optimize the diet of larval king crab by the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Oregon State University, according to an article in Fishermen’s News Online.
Previous studies by the Alaska King Crab Research, Rehabilitation and Biology Program determined that larvae fed enriched Artemia (brine shrimp) had higher survival rates.
The crab were collected in October by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and transported to the UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences Juneau Center, where they are spending the winter. The crab are ovigerous, meaning they are carrying embryos that will hatch into larvae in the spring of next year.
The study will rear the crab larvae with specific enrichments of essential fatty acids and then evaluate the condition of larvae with biochemical and hatchery health indices. University biologists said comparison of the hatchery health index with the biochemical composition of the larvae will provide a standard curve to assess larval condition. If the hatchery health index proves to be a good indication of biochemical condition, the inexpensive method can be used in the hatchery setting to quickly assess larval health.
Biologists said the outcome of the project will have the potential to design aquaculture live-food enrichments that are customized to the nutritional needs of Alaska king crab larvae.
Cristy Fry has commercial fished in Homer since 1978. She also designs and builds gear for the industry. She currently longlines for halibut and gillnets salmon in upper Cook Inlet aboard the F/V Realist. She can be reached at