SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

High crab prices lure pirates


January 10, 2011
Monday PM

The Bering Sea snow crab fishery has been stalled so far by bad weather. Most of the catch is delivered to St. Paul, where the Trident Seafood plant was awaiting supplies to get going.  A Northland barge has been stuck in Dutch Harbor due to weather, delaying operations. 

“We’re hoping for a clearing in the weather so the barge can get up there and we can get the season underway,” said Jake Jacobson, director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange (ICE), which represents vessels holding 70% of the Bering Sea king and snow crab catch shares.

When the fishery is underway, crabbers can plan on a nice payday. Most major buyers have agreed to an advance price almost a dollar higher than last season.

“It’s usually 90% of what our expectations are for a final price after sales. So we’re expecting an advance price of $2.12 per pound,” Jacobson said.    

So far 18 crab boats are registered for the fishery, which is a ‘typical’ season start said biologist Jeanette Alas at ADF&G in Dutch Harbor.

“A lot of boats will fish cod and when they are done they will trickle into the snow crab fishery,” Alas said.

The 2011 snow crab catch quota is just over 54 million pounds, a 13% increase from 2010.

Meanwhile, the red king crab fishery at Bristol Bay ended a few weeks ago amidst little fanfare. Dock prices did indeed set a record - crabbers were advanced $6.25/lb, compared to $4.76/lb last year.   

“It’s a very strong market due to a decrease in supplies, primarily from Russia, and a very strong exchange rate with Japan,” Jacobson explained. 

He said some sales prices are still being finalized, but “the final price we received that can be made public right now is $7.44/lb for red king crab.”

The portion of crab (13%) that is not locked in to certain processors and can be sold on the open market is fetching 37 cents over that, Jacobson said, bringing the final price to $7.81/lb.  The previous record price for red king crab was $6.27/lb set in 2002. 

Jacobson cautioned that the high crab prices are luring Russian pirates back to poaching millions of pounds of illegally caught, unreported king crab.   Bering Sea crabbers are launching an ‘ask for Alaska’ campaign so chefs, retailers and the public can be certain they are purchasing  crab that are caught legally from a well managed fishery.

 Halibut bait and bycatch

Besides setting halibut catch limits, this month fishery managers also will take up several proposals for regulation changes.  Among them:    the Halibut Coalition is asking that specific limits be set for guided sport halibut harvests in Southeast Alaska.  Trident Seafoods is asking that regulations be modified to allow for possession of filleted halibut on board boats.  Now, even people living aboard a vessel are banned from having halibut fillets on board, even if they were purchased at a grocery store. Similarly, Coastal Island Charters is asking that overnight charter operators be able to cut up  and freeze halibut on board.  

Four research projects also are highlighted this year --  using new tagging technologies,  expanding halibut genetic work , and testing different baits during annual stock assessments. 

We have been using #2 semi-brite chum salmon since 1996, but now it’s just getting too expensive, said

 Bruce Leaman, director of the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

“A lot of the salmon which was considered bait quality before are now being processed, particularly in overseas markets for human consumption,” Leaman told KDLG. “So we need to look at something that will give us a long-term guaranteed supply and a lower price. We are looking at testing pollock, pink salmon and herring against our standard chum bait next year.”

The Commission also is refocusing more attention on halibut bycatch.  It’s estimated that 12 million pounds of halibut are taken as bycatch in other Pacific coast fisheries each year.   A halibut bycatch working group was formed to examine how those removals affect halibut stock assessments and fishery management.   

The recommended 2011 halibut catch limit for Alaska is 32.5 million pounds, down from 40 million pounds in 2010.  The IPHC meets January 25 – 29 in Vancouver.

Aqua farm apps open

Every two years the state accepts applications for new aquatic farm sites, or farmers can choose pre-approved sites at any time.

“Those are designated areas that have gone through preliminary review.  Other sites are pre-authorized,  maybe they have been opened at one time and then closed, those are available ‘over the counter’ as well,” said Cynthia Pring-Ham, mariculture coordinator for ADG&G which oversees  aquatic farm sites that are leased by the state Dept. of Natural Resources. 

There are  67 aquatic farms permitted in Alaska as of 2009, of which 25 are producing sales valued at just under a half million dollars. The farms are scattered throughout Southeast, Prince William Sound and Kachemak Bay near Homer. So far 93% are growing oysters, little neck clam production is at 5% and mussels at one percent. Other species of interest include various scallops, seaweeds and geoduck clams.  

“For oysters we are not even coming close to meeting the demands in Alaska and other markets,” Pring-Ham said.

 Major training programs are offered throughout the state by various growers and by Alaska Sea Grant to help people get started, and interest is definitely growing, Pring-Ham said. However, aquatic farming has yet to make headway in westward regions.

 “It is colder there and the environmental conditions with icing and extreme wave action don’t always make it conducive to the type of farming techniques we have established now in the state,” she said. “Not that it’s impossible, and there could be some other technology developed.”

Pring-Ham added that the state, through its fish resource permitting process, can do mariculture site suitability projects if people want to invest some money to try it. 
Interested aqua farmers can apply for new sites through May 2nd. Get more info on aquatic farming at the Fish and Game or DNR websites.

Contacts: or

 Fish watch

Hundreds of  boats have been out on the water since Jan.1 targeting codfish in the Gulf and Bering Sea. Cod prices stink at around 28-33 cents a pound. The pollock fishery opens to Alaska trawlers on January 20…. Kodiak and AK Peninsula crabbers drop pots on the 15th for Tanners. The region-wide catch of 4.4 million pounds is triple the take from last year…. Southeast trollers, who provide wild Alaska salmon nearly all year round, are having a nice winter fishery, with the catch approaching 13,000 kings. Prices have bumped up from $6.68 to $7.60/lb. The winter troll fishery began in October and can remain open through April, or until the catch reaches 45,000 king salmon. … The Board of Fisheries meets Jan. 11-14 in Kodiak at the downtown Harbor Convention Center.  



This year marks the 20th year for this weekly column that focuses on Alaska’s seafood industry. It began in 1991 in the Anchorage Daily News, and now appears in over 20 newspapers and web sites. A daily spin off – Fish Radio – airs weekdays on 30 radio stations in Alaska. My goal is to make all people aware of the economic, social and cultural importance of Alaska’s fishing industry to our state, the nation and the world. 


Laine can be reached at msfish[AT]
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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska


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