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Red King Crab Season Ends on a High Note

Norton Sound red king crab. Photo: Jenn Ruckel, KNOM

The summer season for red king crab has officially closed.

Officials at Fish and Game say it was a good year — so good, in fact, that the harvest was roughly 6,000 pounds over the guideline harvest limit. Jim Menard, a biologist with Fish and Game in Nome, says even though the summer harvest ran over, that’s no reason to panic.

While each season has an “allowable biological catch” allotted, the hard overfishing limit includes both summer and winter harvests. This allows for a bit of wiggle room, says Menard, if one season runs over the recommended limit.

This summer season, fishermen in the Norton Sound harvested 389,000 red king crab — out of a total 417,000 allowed for the year. That leaves about 28,000 crab available for the winter harvest, which is typically smaller in size.

But winter harvests have been growing in recent years. The winter of 2013 yielded nearly 60,000 pounds of crab.

“And then last year, which wasn’t the best ice year, they caught 34,000 pounds,” says Menard. “So combining this summer’s catch with this upcoming winter’s catch, we may overshoot… the allowable biological catch.”

If that happens, the winter season could be cut short — or next summer’s limit may be lowered. But Menard measures the success of a season in more than just harvest numbers.

“It was a good season,” he says. “Everyone came home safely. And that’s always the best thing about a fishery, if everyone makes it back safe to port.”

Another highlight of the 2013 summer fishery: the blue-colored red king crab caught by fisherman Frank McFarland in July. The unusually hued crab was displayed briefly at the Norton Sound Seafood Center in Nome before being mounted.

The winter red king crab fishery for Norton Sound will begin in November of this year, once the ice solidifies.

Image at top: Norton Sound red king crab. Photo: Jenn Ruckel, KNOM file.