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Norton Sound crab fishery bounces back with record year following fishing hiatus

One of NSEDC's main fishing vessels in the regional fleet, the Paul C. Johnson. Photo from NSEDC's website, via public domain.

After no commercial crabbing since 2019, this summer’s Norton Sound Red King Crab fishery had a record year of $3.7 million dollars in ex-vessel value.

The 2022 commercial crabbing season had the region’s best harvest since 2017, according to the Alaska Department of Fish & Game. And when adjusted for inflation, ADF&G said this season’s ex-vessel value reached levels that haven’t been seen since the late 1970s and early ’80s, when the commercial fishery started in the Norton Sound.

One contributing factor was the record price paid by Norton Sound Seafood Products, or NSSP, for red king crab this summer. NSSP paid $12 per pound for regional crabbers, and with a total harvest of 291,553 pounds, this summer season was considered the best crabbing the region has seen in years.

Norton-Sound-Red-King-Crab-fishery-2022-summer-ADFG

The Norton Sound commercial crab fishery was essentially closed in 2020, 2021 and 2022 as NSSP did not purchase crab from regional crabbers. In the summer of 2020, Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation (NSEDC) purchased cod instead of crab from commercial fishers through the regional fish plant. During those years, NSEDC and others were concerned the Norton Sound red king crab stock was on the verge of collapsing.

Even the 2019 season, which caught just over half of the total quota of crab, was considered a dud by many standards. NOAA issued a disaster declaration for that season last summer because of how poor the commercial crabbing conditions were.

This year saw a significant improvement as 26 permit holders participated in the almost 40 day long 2022 summer season, which closed on Sunday, July 24, ADF&G said. It is still unclear as to what caused the poor crabbing conditions in the Norton Sound in recent years or if the lack of commercial fishing over the past few seasons was the main factor in the stock’s recovery.

Image at top: One of NSEDC’s main fishing vessels in the regional fleet, the Paul C. Johnson. Photo from NSEDC’s website, via public domain.

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