Business/Economy

Southeast crabbers are expecting one of their best seasons ever

Frigid February fishing in Alaska features crabbing from the Panhandle to the Bering Sea, followed in March by halibut, black cod and herring.

Crabbers throughout Southeast will drop pots for Tanners on Feb. 11, and they’re expecting one of the best seasons ever. Fishery managers said they are seeing “historically high levels” of Tanner crab, with good recruitment coming up from behind.

The catch limit won’t be set until the fishery is underway, but last year’s take was 1.27 million pounds (504,369 crabs), with crabs weighing 2.5 pounds on average. Crabbers know they will fetch historically high prices based on the recent payout for westward region Tanners.

Prices to fishermen at Kodiak, Chignik and the South Peninsula reached a jaw-dropping  $8.50/lb for the weeklong fishery that ended in late January and produced 1.8 million pounds of good-looking crab.

Back at Southeast, crabbers also can concurrently pull up golden king crabs starting Feb. 11. The harvest limit is 75,300 pounds, up from 61,000 pound last year. The crabs weigh 5 to 8 pounds on average and last year paid out at $11.55/lb at the Southeast docks.

A Tanner crab fishery kicks off at Prince William Sound starting March 1 with a 61,800-pound catch limit. The fishery could run through March 31 unless the quota is taken earlier.

Out in the Bering Sea, crabbers have taken 18% of their 1 million-pound Tanner crab quota and 33% of their 5.6-million pound snow crab quota. For snow crab, that equals about 4.3 million animals.

The 2022 snow crab catch is down 88% from last year’s 45 million-pound quota, and the fishery has been officially classified as “overfished” by federal managers.

However, a NOAA document to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in October said the snow crab stock is “not subject to overfishing,” because “the fishery removals aren’t above the level considered to be sustainable — rather, it’s because the stock dropped for other reasons that scientists and managers aren’t entirely sure of yet.”

Farther north, a through-the-ice February red king crab fishery at Norton Sound was canceled when local buyers opted not to purchase any to protect the declining stock in that region.              In other Alaska fisheries, halibut catches for this year were increased for all regions except Southeast. Here’s the breakdown in millions of pounds compared to 2021, in parentheses: Southeast/Area 2C: 3.51m (3.53m); Central Gulf/3A: 9.55m (8.95m); Western Gulf /3B: 3.35m (2.56m); Aleutians/4A: 1.76m (1.66m); Aleutians/4B: 1.28m (1.23m); Bering Sea/4CDE: 2.06m (1.67m).

In all, the Alaska commercial halibut harvest for 2022 is 21.51 million pounds, up from 19.6 million pounds last year. The average halibut price paid to Alaska fishermen in 2021 was $6.40/lb with a fishery value topping $109 million.

The abundance of Alaska sablefish (black cod), one of the priciest fish, continues in all regions. Combined Gulf and Bering Sea catches for 2022 total nearly 76 million pounds, a 32% increase.

The sablefish and halibut fisheries both run from March 6 to Dec. 7.             

Boats also are targeting Alaska pollock in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, where combined catches could top 3 billion pounds, as well as cod, rockfish and flounders.

Some good news for Southeast king salmon trollers: Their treaty harvest allocation for 2022 is 193,200 Chinook salmon, an increase of 44,700 from 2021.

Finally, the 2022 forecast for the Copper River sockeye salmon commercial harvest is just 716,000 fish. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game predicts the total sockeye run will come in  at 1,432,000 fish, 34% below the 10-year average.

Fish hacks – Do you crack the crab shells with a rolling pin before cooking them, or have a special brine for smoked black cod?

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute has launched #AlaskaSeafoodHacks to find some of the best tricks and tips for preparing fish and shellfish.

“As consumers are buying and cooking seafood more than ever, ASMI is bringing together chefs, culinary masterminds and those who cook seafood the most — Alaskans and members of the fishing industry — to provide easy recipe inspiration and cooking tips while encouraging home cooks to share their own #AlaskaSeafoodHacks on social media,” said Ashley Heimbigner, ASMI communications director.

Through March 4 the #AlaskaSeafoodHacks campaign will showcase new tips from experts and home cooks. Innovative and unique ideas might be recreated by culinary experts and chefs and featured on Alaska Seafood’s social channels and website.

Hacks head to Juneau – Alaska legislators and select others are being invited to sample the latest seafood hacks and haute items at the annual soiree set for 5 to 8 p.m. Feb. 26 at Centennial Hall in Juneau.

The legislative reception, hosted by United Fishermen of Alaska and Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, is the second leg of the Alaska Symphony of Seafood competition in November where only first place winners and a Seattle People’s Choice were announced at Pacific Marine Expo. All others, including the grand prize winner, are kept under wraps until the Juneau event where attendees also will select their favorite.

Top winners get a free trip to the big Seafood Expo North America in Boston in March. They include Echo Falls Wild Alaskan Smoked Salmon/Tapas Sliced Mediterranean by Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Alaska Grown Ribbon Kelp by Seagrove Kelp Company of Craig, Wild Alaska Pollock Jerky by Neptune Snacks, Deep Blue Sea Bath Soak by Waterbody of Wrangell, Bristol Bay Sockeye by Alaskan Leader Seafoods, whose Alaska Black Cod also was selected as the Seattle People’s Choice.

The foundation has hosted the Alaska Symphony of Seafood competition since 1994 to showcase new market-ready products by large and small Alaska companies.

Oysters on the go -  Farm Suzuki of Japan is selling its specialty fried and raw oysters on the half shell and raw tiger shrimp at vending machines in Hiroshima and Tokyo, complete with a microwave for heating.

Seafood Source reports that the concept is not exclusive to the company – a Dutch company has a mussel vending machine, for example – but Farm Suzuki’s direct marketing machine quickly gained attention and was featured on the Japanese government’s Twitter.

Laine Welch | Fish Factor

Kodiak-based Laine Welch writes Fish Factor, a weekly roundup of news and opinion about Alaska's commercial fishing industry that appears in newspapers and websites around Alaska and nationally. Contact her at msfish@alaskan.com.

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