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

Saturday marked the opening of the 2020 Norton Sound winter commercial crab fishery. What is normally a red-letter day for regional fishermen was instead a dud, as no commercial crabbers started fishing this weekend.

Alaska Department of Fish & Game area manager, Jim Menard says as of Monday morning, just one commercial crabber has officially registered to fish this winter season. Without many regional commercial permit holders, that also means there won’t be a way to sell potential crab. In Fish & Game’s announcement to open the fishery, the department was advocating for catcher-sellers to market their crabs. But in order to receive a catcher-seller permit, Menard says crabbers must first register for a commercial crabbing permit.

Adem Boeckman, who has fished in the Norton Sound commercial crab fishery for more than twenty years, says he wrestled with the decision to register to commercial crab this past weekend.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a while and I’m concerned about our resource, a lot. But at the same time, I know me and a group of guys who have been doing it for twenty plus years. There’s a void in our life and we really miss getting out on the ice and doing something that we’ve been rather successful at. It gets us through a tough time of year, it gets dark, and when you can get out and have something like that…it’s a game changer for a lot of us.”

Commercial crabbing during the winter and summer seasons makes up a significant part of Boeckman’s yearly income. The Nome crabber says he isn’t sure yet what he’ll do instead to make some money this season, but regardless Boeckman will continue to share what he can with others.

“I just bumped into an old friend and they were asking if I had been out crabbing at all. So, I’m probably going to go out and do some subsistence crabbing, so I can share some crab with the people I like. I don’t feel right about trying to do it for financial gain.”

Last summer’s commercial crabbing season resulted in Boeckman spending more money to find crab than he made from selling them. Based on his efforts then, and the state of the Norton Sound crab fishery now, Boeckman says he feels it is best to stand down for a period of time. Kawerak Inc. echoes Boeckman’s sentiments, as the regional tribal consortium released a statement last week advocating for Fish & Game to close the crab fishery. They are the latest entity in a growing list openly opposing commercial crabbing in Norton Sound this year.

Menard says ADF&G will maintain the status quo, regardless of who is, or is not, commercial crabbing this season. The quota for the winter fishery remains at more than 13,608 pounds of crab.

At this point, it seems the only measure that could officially halt the 2020 Norton Sound winter commercial crab fishery, is the Alaska Board of Fisheries. The Board will discuss statewide king and tanner crab during a meeting on March 8th – 11th in Anchorage.

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