SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Growing crops of king crab?
By Laine Welch


February 27, 2006

Can crops of king crab be grown in Alaska? That question will be tackled by the world's foremost crab scientists when they gather next month in Kodiak.
jpg Laine Welch

Researchers from Japan, Norway, Russia, Chile, Argentina, Canada, Maine and the Chesapeake Bay will join with Alaska's leading scientists for three days to share gaps and gains in knowledge about crab enhancement, a process well underway in several countries. Japanese scientists, for example, began cultivating red king crab in the 1960s. A commercial stock enhancement facility currently exists at Hokkaido, and more are planned in Russia and Norway. While similar techniques and approaches are being used worldwide, crab scientists rarely have the opportunity to collaborate with each other because of the distances between research centers.

Crab enhancement should not be confused with crab farming, said Dr. Brad Stevens, a NOAA Fisheries biologist who is cultivating Pribilof Island blue king crab at his lab at the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center. "We're talking about capturing female crabs with eggs, hatching them, raising them to a certain size and releasing them into the wild, similar to Alaska's salmon hatcheries. Enhancement is all about putting the crabs back into their natural environment," Stevens explained. "Get the tiny crab past some point of a survival bottleneck ­ that might be 10 percent of your mortality right there," he added. Stevens also stressed that crab cultivation should not be viewed as a competing industry, as it provides more animals into the wild capture fishery.

Stevens said it is important for Alaska to keep track of what is going on in other countries. "Before it hits us in the face in the next five to ten years, and suddenly the market is flooded with enhanced king crabs, and we're wondering how we got left out. The train is coming down the track and I want us to be on it," he said.

Steering committee member Heather McCarty agreed, adding that it is also important to look beyond the science. "If we are going to grow crabs in Alaska, we also need to consider who is going to catch the crab, where they are going to catch them, who gets the benefit, and impacts on the environment and the marketplace. Those issues should be discussed as we develop the program, not after it takes place," said

The Alaska Crab Enhancement and Rehabilitation Workshop is being bankrolled by Alaska Sea Grant, Kodiak City and Borough, and the North Pacific Research Board. It takes place March 14 & 15 at Kodiak College with a public forum set for Thursday, March 16 at the ComFish Trade Show. Find more information at:

PINKS TURN INTO PET TREATS - More than one million pounds of Alaska pink salmon will be turned into tasty pet treats this year by a small Anchorage-based company called Arctic Paws, and owner Brett Gibson worries that might not be enough to handle the demand.

The full line of Yummy Chummies, produced since 1997, has most recently made it onto the retail shelves Kroger's King Soopers and City Markets in Colorado. That follows on the heels of growing sales at Wal-Mart and Sam's Clubs throughout Alaska, CostCo outlets in Texas and Canada, and PetCo, a pet specialties chain with 750 stores nationwide. The Arctic Paws products are also selling at Japan Pet stores in that country. (

Gibson said sales of his line of pet treats, vitamins and salmon oil supplements have greatly benefited from all of the positive press surrounding wild salmon and its healthy omega fatty acids. Snazzy new packaging that rivals brands by national retailers also has helped with more market expansion. "That was critical for us to move forward in these large retail outlets," he said, crediting grants from the state and the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board for "making it all possible."

Gibson said getting products onto retail shelves is just half the battle. "The bigger challenge is getting people to buy it. It doesn't do any good to put the product into the store and do nothing. That takes aggressive marketing strategies and it is all very costly," he said.

Gibson's strategies have clearly started to pay off. Arctic Paws, which now employs five year round workers, has come a long way from its first year when the company purchased just 7,000 pounds of pink salmon. "I purchase them from suppliers in Valdez after they've taken the eggs. It's a real win-win situation for all of us," he said. He wanted to buy more than 800,000 pounds last year, Gibson said, but he is limited as to where to put the fish. "The cold storage situation in Anchorage is pretty slim," he said.

Two years ago, Arctic Paws moved its factory into the former 7,500 square foot Sahalie Seafood plant, and it is already outgrowing that facility. The company now employs five year round workers. "We're growing very quickly. Our sales are up nearly 300 percent from a year ago, and it doesn't seem to be letting up," Gibson said. "But we're keeping our head down and our eyes on the ball so we can perform with all the opportunities that are presented to us."

AK SEAFOOD EXPORTS SOAR - Alaska fish and shellfish is being enjoyed in many more countries around the world, and its value continues to increase. Alaska sold nearly two billion pounds of seafood to overseas buyers last year ­ a modest one percent increase, but the value jumped to nearly $2.5 billion, a 13 percent increase from the year before. That's according to a breakdown of exports by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute provided to the federal government. Alaska seafood made its biggest gains in Eastern Europe and China, where volumes increased 82 percent and 46 percent, respectively. The value of seafood exports to Eastern Europe soared 202 percent to nearly $20 million; the value to China jumped 32 percent to $270 million. For Europe overall, nearly 500 million pounds of Alaska seafood was purchased (up seven percent), and the value rose 21 percent to nearly $568 million.

Australians were also getting a bigger taste of Alaska seafood, where sales of 17 million pounds were up by 22 percent. That value increased by 28 percent to $22 million.

Japan remains as Alaska's most important customer, buying close to 620 million pounds of seafood last year. Although that reflects a nine percent decline in purchases, the value rose nine percent to more than $930 million. Overall, Asia was the biggest export market for Alaska seafood, buying more than one billion pounds last year, up two percent from 2004.

CANDIDATES TALK FISH - All five of the declared candidates for Alaska governor will "talk fish" at a two hour Gubernatorial Candidates' Debate set for March 16 in Kodiak. The event marks the fifth time since 1990 that the "goober debate" has been held as part of the annual ComFish trade show. The candidates are limited to a single topic: Alaska's seafood industry. As always, the debate will be broadcast live from 7-9pm via the Alaska Public Radio Network, and streamed on the Internet by host station KMXT/Kodiak (


Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. Her Fish Factor column appears weekly in over a dozen papers and websites. Her Fish Radio programs air on 27 stations across Alaska.

Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

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Ketchikan, Alaska