NOME, ALASKA — Commercial crabbers are on track for another strong harvest on Norton Sound. So far, fishermen are on par with last year’s record-breaking catch, but they stand to make less money because of a new, reduced quota.
According to Jim Menard, the area manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the new limit is less than half of last season’s total haul.
“Last year, there were 99,000 pounds caught and this year, the quota is just over 41,000 pounds,” he said. “There will be a difference there.”
The winter fishery opened just over two weeks ago. Menard said 14 fishermen have already harvested one-third of the quota. That’s about 13,000 pounds of red king crab.
The Board of Fisheries imposed this year’s new quota to fight ghost fishing. That’s what happens when crab pots are lost and drift out to sea.
Menard said the limit will likely close the fishery a month or two earlier than seasons past.
“Our projections show that we would reach the guideline harvest level of 41,000 by about March 25, if it stays similar to last year. It will depend on the ice conditions,” he said.
So far, Menard said crabbers have reported reliable ice — at least in areas where they’re allowed to drop their pots.
“They say to the west, it’s holding,” he said. “It’s not holding too much here in front of town off the jetty. But commercial fishermen have to fish west of Dredge 6 or east of the Nome River, and they say it’s holding real well out there on the ice.”
Menard said crab is selling for up to $7 per pound — the same high price fishermen have seen the last two winters. This year, 23 crabbers have registered a commercial permit on Norton Sound, down slightly from 28 permit-holders last season.