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Fish Factor

King Crab Season Officially Underway August 15th
By Laine Welch


July 24, 2006

Alaska's crab season in the Bering Sea will officially get underway with the August 15 start of the golden king crab fishery. Just 14 crabbers own rights to that deep water fishery under the new quota share system that began last year, although only eight boats usually participate. Golden king crab, which is slightly smaller than red kings and has a more delicate, sweet flavor, is one of Alaska's most stable stocks and for years has maintained a catch of 5.7 million pounds.

Unfortunately, all signs point to a continued downward press in world king crab markets. Blame it on the jumbos coming in from the new Russian fishery in the Barents Sea, said market expert John Sackton.

"That Russian crab has had a huge impact on the crab market, and I don't see any change in that situation this coming year," he said.

The crab was transplanted to the Barents Sea by Russians about 60 years ago, and since then the stocks have boomed. The region, saddled atop Russia and Norway, now supports a fishery that is about the same size as Alaska's, and it's likely to get even bigger. The king crab, which has only been arriving on world markets in recent years, is huge ­ the average weight is ten pounds, but it can top 20 pounds, compared to about six pounds for Alaska red king crab. And nearly all of it is coming into the U.S.

"That's taken the high end of the market and pushed it down really hard because there is such an over supply," Sackton said, adding that this summer wholesalers are selling the jumbo crab to retailers at $7.65- $7.75 per pound, far lower than last year.

Market analyst Ken Talley agreed. "Prices for the large red kings are beginning to strengthen a bit, but only for the (most popular) 6-9 and 9-12 size sections. All the rest continues to be an over supply and there simply is no home for it with the cheap red kings around," Talley said. [King crab is sold by the number of legs per 10 pound box, so 9-12 means the legs are close to one pound each. The Barents Sea crab is mostly 4-6, 6-9 size sections. The most common sizes coming out of Alaska are 12-14 and 14-17 sections.]

The total U.S. supply of king crab is about 27,000 metric tons (60 million pounds), of which Alaska in 2005 provided only about 12 percent (3,000 ­ 4,000 tons). All the rest comes from Russia. Sackton said a wild card is the status of the king crab market in Japan, where smaller crab is preferred. Alaska typically provides roughly 2,400 ­ 3,000 tons to Japan.

On a brighter note, the crunch in the king crab market is not likely to be permanent. "Anytime new crab comes into the world market, it throws things off kilter for awhile. A lot of old timers will remember in 1991 the serious depression of king crab coming from the Russian Far East fishery. Two or three years later, there were record prices," Sackton said.

And in a scenario similar to farmed salmon - the fact that there is more king crab around is expanding the number of people who buy it. In the long term, that will bode well for the crab industry, he added.

But that's not much consolation in the short term. "With the spiraling cost of fuel and other expenses, it's almost not worth going fishing," said one long time golden king crabber.

The average price paid to fishermen for golden kings last year was $2.65/lb, down from $3.50 in previous years. Alaska red king crab last year averaged $4.50, down 20-cents from the previous year. That fishery begins in mid-October.

NEW FISH FACE IN D.C. - Fisherman and fisheries policy maker Arne Fuglvog of Petersburg will hang up his gear and head directly to our nation's capital as the new fisheries aide to Senator Lisa Murkowski. Fuglvog replaces long time aide Bill Woolf, who is retiring.

"I wasn't out looking for another job, but the opportunity became available and I couldn't pass it up," Fuglvog said in a phone interview shortly after the Senator made the announcement on Thursday.

"Arne has a reputation as a quick study, a consensus builder and hard worker who has the interest of Alaska fishermen and coastal communities at heart. He will be a tremendous asset not only to my office but to the whole Alaska fishing community," Senator Murkowski said in a prepared statement.

Fuglvog is a fifth generation fisherman who has participated in salmon, crab, halibut and many other fisheries for more than 30 years. He said several reasons prompted him to make the switch from fishing to the halls of Congress.

"Primarily, it provides the chance to work with someone like Senator Murkowski who is honest and has integrity and is a tireless worker for Alaska, and a strong supporter of the fishing industry. Secondly, I can continue my work in fisheries policy, and lastly, for some personal reasons. I've been really struggling with trying to fish so much and spending a few months in meetings each year," he said.

Fuglvog has been the only active fisherman on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council since 2003. Prior to that he was an advisor to the 15 member panel for nine years. The NPFMC sets the rules for all fisheries in federal waters from three to 200 miles off the coast of Alaska.

"That was my biggest heartburn ­ the fact that I like the Council process and I believe that having an active fishermen involved is very important," he said.

"The conundrum is that the process has become so demanding and time consuming that it is very difficult to be a full time fisherman and be effective. You want both of those things and yet they're competing against each other," the 42 year old father of two added.

Fuglvog said he commends fishermen for becoming proactive and bringing new ideas to the Council process. "The Council pays close attention and is always listening for things that can be incorporated into different management plans. I do bristle a bit when I hear people say they are ignoring the public, because I think the Council is responsive," he said.

Fuglvog said some of the immediate challenges facing the fishing industry are reauthorization of the nation's primary fish law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the movement towards offshore aquaculture and continuing seafood marketing efforts.

"As a fisherman and council member, I can bring a unique perspective to D.C. and help educate people about the importance and value of Alaska's fisheries. One of my primary roles will be to keep an eye out for anything happening there that would have an effect on our fisheries, as well as things Alaskans want to see changed in D.C. The relationships I have will remain the same. People are comfortable working with me and that won't change," he added.

Fuglvog's wife Cindy will split time between Petersburg and Washington, D.C. and continue to operate the family's fishing business. Arne will begin his new job in September.

"You have few chances in life to reinvent yourself and step through a new door and take on new challenges. I'm really excited," he said.

Governor Murkowski will forward three new names to the U.S. Commerce Secretary next month in the hope of filling Fuglvog's seat in time for the October NPFMC meeting in Dutch Harbor.

ECONOMIC SNAPSHOT - A snapshot of Alaska's economy reveals some telling trends. It was presented by Steve Colt of UAA's Institute of Social and Economic Research as part of the Alaska Federation of Natives' Leadership Forum. Some findings, based on 2004 figures: Alaska's population has reached 658,000 residents. Alaska's gross state product in 2004 was $36 billion, of which 36 percent was petroleum related.

Total employment was listed at 400,000 cash paying jobs, with the federal government employing 35 percent of Alaska's workers. That was followed by the oil and gas industry at 32 percent. Fishing jobs are lumped in with mining, timber and agriculture and reflect 13 percent of Alaska's employment. Seafood tops that segment at nearly 35,000 jobs, far ahead of mining at 8,700 and timber at 6,200 workers. More than 40 percent of Alaska's private sector jobs are in businesses with fewer than 50 workers, with six people being the average business size.

Subsistence hunting and fishing is a vital part of the Alaska economy, with annual harvests topping 53 million pounds. Nome and Bethel are Alaska's top subsistence regions, at 519 and 592 pounds per person, respectively.

Alaska is the nation's most "connected" state, with nearly 70 percent of its residents having access to the internet. Within Alaska, internet availability in rural regions is at about 86 percent per household, compared to 97 percent for the rest of the state. Find the colorful snapshot slide show at .




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