Alaska Bering Sea crab fleet uses eco-gear, earth friendly fishing practices
April 28, 2011
Every crab pot in Alaska is required to use biodegradable twine and escape panels to let juvenile and female crab go free. That rule has been on the Alaska law books since the 1970s. Only large, legal sized male crabs are retained for sale in Alaska’s crab fisheries – which produce more than one-third of total U.S. crab catches.
More recently Bering Sea crabbers have advanced more methods to protect Alaska’s king crab and snow crab stocks, as well as reduce impacts on the sea floor.
Since 2005, when the fleet began operating under a catch share plan instead of racing for the crab, the number of pots being used has dropped 76% - from 50,000 to 12,000 crab pots in the red king crab fishery. The crab pots can soak longer, meaning fewer pulls and better catches. That also has helped the Bering Sea fleet reduce its fuel ‘carbon footprint’ by half.
The slower-paced fishery has accelerated the use of more eco-friendly gear when the crab comes aboard, said Edward Poulsen, director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, a harvester group. More boats are installing systems that use water flumes, portable hydraulic tables or conveyor belts for sorting the crab. Before the catch share program, many boats dropped their crab into big holding bins until they could be sorted, Poulsen said. The improved systems mean the crew can carefully sort the crabs right away with much less handling. That greatly reduces crab mortality.
Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands crabbers fund onboard fishery observers to monitor and document every catch. They also fund research projects and work in partnership with state and federal agencies to preserve and protect the crab resources.
Vessel owner and veteran crab fisherman Jim Stone said: “I am proud to be involved in a fishery where we have done so much in such a short time to protect our resources and reduce our impact on the environment.”
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