UNALASKA (AP) -- A total of 195 boats are signed up for the Bering Sea snow crab fishery for the Jan. 15 season opener.
That's a slight increase from last year, when 189 boats set out, according to biologist Forrest Bowers of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Participation had been declining along with quotas. In 1994, according to Fish and Game records, 273 boats chased the little opilio Tanner crabs that are marketed as snow crab.
Next week's opening will have a quota of 23.7 million pounds in the general fishery.
Last year, fishermen received a price of $1.40 a pound. A representative of a fisherman's group said the 2003 price should be considerably higher than last year.
Demand is strong and inventories are down, so Alaska Marketing Association President Gary Stewart was optimistic about a good price. The AMA represents fishermen in negotiations with crab processors.
The AMA has again hired former Unalaska mayor Paul Fuhs to negotiate prices with processors.
Bowers said sea ice conditions favor fishermen. The ice hasn't been as far north since 1986. Bowers said a summer trawl survey found large numbers of market-size male crab in areas normally covered by ice.
The crab also is looking better, according to the summer survey. Bowers said just 40 percent of the crab had dirty old shells, compared to 60 percent the previous year. An old-shell crab is one that has not molted in more than a year.
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