Urgent research into Bristol Bay Red King Crab will be getting underway in mid-March according to reports from Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers

Urgent research into Bristol Bay Red King Crab will be getting underway in mid-March. Photo: Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers

Urgent crab research will be getting underway in mid-March thanks to funds provided by both Alaska Department of Fish and Game and NOAA Fisheries, according to reports from Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers.

The research is expected to use two chartered crab vessels with three scientists each, plus crew, to conduct research on Bristol Bay red king crab, including a pot survey, tagging, and gear studies. It will span roughly 25 days and begin in mid-March.

The survey will set out to accomplish three main goals that may help inform management decisions in the future and will lay out important groundwork for future studies:

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1) To estimate the late winter/early spring relative distribution of red king crab (RKC) in Bristol Bay.

2) To understand movements of RKC from late winter/early spring to summer, and to better understand if tagged crab behaviour is representative of the population by linking winter/early spring relative distribution to summer relative distribution.

3) To conduct gear trials with modified crab pots intended to reduce catch of female and sublegal male RKC by the directed crab fishery.

“This is a very unique opportunity that is made possible through the cooperation of Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation (BSFRF) and ABSC along with both State and Federal management agencies. With collapsed crab stocks, there has never been a stronger need for crab research and we’re pleased with the collaborative effort and speed with which this research is getting underway,” says Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers.

Crab fishermen in Alaska has been hit hard with Bristol Bay Red King Crab (BBRKC) being at an all-time low, and snow crab disappearing in the eastern Bering Sea. This has caused both fisheries to be closed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Tanner crab is also facing a decline which has led to many questions as the crab fishery in Alaska has been under the most “sophisticated management” system in the world.

According to Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, the management of the crab fishery by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has been “anything but that” sophisticated management. Two out of the three main crab fisheries are closed, with the BBRKC facing a third year of closure in 2023, and the snow crab closed for a further two years after the 2023 season closure.

Based on the 2022 NOAA Fisheries summer bottom trawl survey, these historic lows are expected to persist for some time.

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