Boats drop pots for Alaska king crab in the Bering Sea
August 19, 2011
Golden king crab is one of Alaska’s most stable fisheries, producing about six million pounds each year for more than a decade. A fleet of just five to six boats fish for “goldens” in deep waters off the Aleutian Islands.
To keep track of the far away fishery, every vessel is required to carry a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) transceiver to mark where it is dropping crab pots. VMS usage is required for all Alaska Bering Sea crab boats under the crab catch share program. Since 1988 the vessels also have carried onboard observers to collect scientific data and monitor the crab catch.
It makes it virtually impossible for crabbers to cheat, and they don’t want to anyway, said Jake Jacobsen, a veteran Bering Sea crabber and director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, a harvester group.
“The consequences are such,” Jacobsen added, “that even if someone were so inclined; it is too big of a risk compared to any potential gain.”
All crab pots in Alaska waters use special panels and twines that bio-degrade over time to let crabs escape if pots are lost at sea. To add even more protection, boats targeting golden king crab voluntarily use large mesh gear that sorts out females and small crabs while the pots are on the ocean floor. Only large male king crabs are retained for market.
Golden king crabs are slightly smaller than their more famous red king cousins. Nearly all of the Alaska catch goes to markets here at home, and a good portion of the golden crab pack goes to the U.S. military.
The market outlook for golden king crab is good, and supply is tight, Jacobsen said. Prices are still being negotiated, he said, and crabbers hope to see paychecks similar to last year when golden king crab topped $5.00 per pound.
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