Fishermen may sit out crab opening

Posted: Sunday, January 14, 2001

UNALASKA (AP) -- Bering Sea snow crab fishermen say they will go on strike, honoring the Alaska Marketing Association's request to stay in port, unless a price agreement is reached with processors before the fishery opens at noon Monday.

Boats will not start fishing until 48 hours after a settlement is reached, said association Vice President Gary Stewart on Friday.

The group planned to meet again Saturday night in Unalaska.

Without an agreement, boats will stay tied to the docks in Unalaska, Akutan and St. Paul as they did last year and in previous years, sometimes for as long as two weeks.

AMA manager Jake Jacobsen said fishermen want at least the same price as last year's $1.85 per pound. While no offers have been made, he said, he doubts that processors will want to pay more than $1.60 per pound.

One major buyer hopes to announce a price soon but said an offer has been delayed by uncertainties in the Japanese market, where most of the crab is sold.

''We're just kind of in limbo,'' said Steve Stubbe, plant manager at Royal Aleutian Seafoods in Unalaska.

Jacobsen said fishermen's fuel expenses have risen dramatically since last year when it sold for 92.5 cents per gallon. This year it's $1.55.

While processors on shore also have higher fuel costs, fuel represents a much higher percentage of fishermen's operating expenses, Jacobsen said.

The harvest quota this year is 27.3 million pounds, down from 28.5 million pounds last year, which was considered small. By contrast, the harvest in 1999 was 184 million pounds and the harvest in 1998 was 243 million pounds.

The quota was lowered because of declining stocks and a more conservative exploitation rate that kicks in as a result.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Unalaska reports that 211 boats have signed up for the snow crab fishery, about 25 fewer than last year.

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