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Shifting Bering Sea ice helps Alaska snow crab harvest

With the sea ice in the Bering Sea moving north a little, fishing effort has increased in the snow crab fishery.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Unalaska reports between 30 and 35 boats fishing this week, up from 20 last week.

The snow crab harvest on Tuesday was reported at 23.6 million pounds, with 22.3 million in the individual fishing quota fishery and 1.3 million pounds for the community development quota program benefiting western Alaska communities.

That's a four million pound increase since last week.

The overall quota is 88.9 million pounds, up considerably from the previous season's 54.2 million pounds of snow, or opilio, crab.

Unisea crab manager Al Mendoza in Unalaska said the ice moved north "gradually, but not dramatically." He added that some crabbers may have delayed going fishing until after the Super Bowl football game last Sunday.

Mendoza said the floating crab processor R.M. Thorstenson delivered crab from the Pribilofs at the Northland Services dock in Captains Bay, Unalaska, and then returned to the fishing grounds. The Thorstenson, owned by Icicle Seafoods, is custom processing Unisea's northern opies.

Unisea was paying $1.88 per pound of snow crab this month, Mendoza said.

Fish and Game reports that all the Unalaska processors are buying snow crab, including Alyeska, Unisea, Westward, Bering Fisheries and Icicle.

The freezing weather came earlier this year, Fish and Game biologist Heather Fitch said, adding that the cold weather typically happens in late February and March.

The ice has reached St. Paul Island. A St. Paul city harbor official said Tuesday that ice had closed the harbor for a week, and the last crab delivery was on Feb. 1 to the Trident Seafoods plant.

In the Tanner crab fishery in the Eastern Aleutian District, only one boat was working the quota of 35,000 pounds, and had made two deliveries, said biologist Britta Baechler of Fish and Game in Unalaska. The Tanner's historic average weight is 2.25 pounds per crab, she said.

The Tanner fishery opened Jan. 15, and only in the Makushin/Skan Bay district on the west side of Unalaska Island. The Unalaska Bay and Akutan districts are closed because of low crab populations, she said.

This article was originally published in The Dutch Harbor Fisherman and is reprinted here with permission.