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“We’re on the Upswing Now,” Says Fish & Game Going Into Winter Crabbing Season

Red crabs piled on top of one another.
Norton Sound Crab. Photo provided by Adem Boeckmann (2019)

There will be commercial crabbing in the Norton Sound this winter. Whether there’s red king crab around or enough fishers to catch them remains to be seen, but the Alaska Department of Fish & Game is optimistic.

ADF&G recently announced that the 2021 winter commercial crabbing season will begin next Monday, on February 1st. Jim Menard, Fish and Game’s area manager for commercial fisheries in the Norton Sound, says despite current conditions the opening date is set in stone.

“You know in the last ten years, the Norton Sound crab fishery has been like a humming bird, it’s been going in all different directions. So right now, the regulation is that we will open on February 1st. So this is a new regulation.”

– Jim Menard

The new regulation came from a proposal put forth by the Northern Norton Sound Advisory Committee, which was approved last year. In previous years the winter commercial crabbing fishery would open on or after January 15th. Now winter crabbing in the Norton Sound opens on February 1st and is expected to close by the end of April.

As of this morning, there were no registered commercial crabbers and no buyer. This is a similar situation to how last year’s winter fishery began, but Menard says one of the key differences is that the crab could be coming back to the Norton Sound.

“[The crab numbers] just sort of fell off in 2019, it was coming down and that trough was expected. Now we’re coming back. We’re seeing recruitment into the fishery and the data shows the next couple of years should be good; and we may have another dip after that, we’ll see. So, we are on the upswing now.”

According to ADF&G, the guideline harvest level has not been set for the 2021 crabbing seasons yet so it is unclear what the exact GHL will be for the winter fishery. Still, Menard estimates this year’s quota won’t be reached by whomever decides to crab in the Norton Sound.

“Legal Male Biomass is estimated over 3 million pounds. It’s preliminary and it’s closer to 4 million pounds. If we take ten percent of that, that’s about 400,000 pounds that would go into the GHL, then the winter crab [fishery] at eight percent would [be] a harvest less than 40,000 pounds.”

Last year’s quota for the winter commercial crab fishery was set at less than 14,000 pounds and the total was not harvested. The quota for the 2019 winter season was even lower at 12,000 pounds.

For anyone who is interested in becoming a catcher-seller, Menard says they must first register as a commercial crab permit holder. Those who want to participate in the winter fishery must have stopped subsistence crabbing by January 25th.

According to Menard, any catcher-sellers can legally sell crabs that are four and three-quarter inches or greater. Registration is open at the Nome Fish & Game office. But if you are a village resident then you can call 1-800-560-227 to register to commercially crab fish.

Image at top: Norton Sound Crab. Photo provided by Adem Boeckmann (2019).

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