NOME, Alaska — Norton Sound’s commercial crab fishery closed Thursday. In the first season shortened by a new quota, winter fishermen harvested the allowed 41,376 pounds of red king crab in just over a month.
Jim Menard is the area manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He said the Board of Fisheries imposed the new quota to better balance the winter and summer crab catches. The quota shrunk the winter season by several months and cut the harvest by more than half, compared to last year’s record-breaking haul.
Still, Menard said commercial crabbers have had a lucrative winter.
“Just another great price here in the fishery,” he said. “We peaked at $7.50 per pound. That’s definitely the best we’ve seen, and the fishermen were paid very well.”
Just 22 commercial permit holders sold crab this year. That’s down from last season when 44 crabbers harvested nearly 100,000 pounds, shattering every record in the 35-year history of the fishery.
In addition to the new, reduced quota, Menard said other factors contributed to lower turnout.
“It was a lot of newcomers last year, and they realize it’s not that lucrative unless you have a full commitment to it,” he said. “And the ice conditions weren’t as good as last year, so maybe some shied away for that reason.”
While next year’s winter crab quota won’t be determined until after the summer fishery, Menard said it will probably be about the same. That means shorter seasons and smaller harvests will likely be the new normal for the Norton Sound fishery.
On top of the quota, Menard said the Board of Fisheries is also limiting the number of crab pots fishermen are allowed to use. Starting next winter, crabbers can only fish with 20 pots at a time, instead of dropping any many as they like. Menard said the board is introducing the limit to cut down on lost crab pots and ghost fishing.