Snow crab season to open Tuesday

Posted: Monday, January 14, 2002

UNALASKA (AP) -- The Bering Sea snow crab season is expected to open Tuesday amid efforts to change the system.

Fishermen on Saturday overwhelmingly accepted a price of $1.40 per pound of snow crab from Westward Seafoods, according to Erling Jacobsen of the Alaska Marketing Association, representing fishermen.

Jacobsen said other processors will pay $1.42 per pound, but said the group voted on the lower figure because it was the only formal offer. The price is down from last year's $1.55 per pound, reached after a 2 week strike.

Fishermen and processors both wanted to avoid a strike this year, said Paul Fuhs of Anchorage, AMA price negotiator.

The Japanese economy cannot support the same price as last year, said Terry Shaff, president of Unisea, a major Unalaska crab processor.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Unalaska reports that 192 boats will chase a regular season quota of 28.5 million pounds.

Plans for a new system of individual quotas are moving ahead. It would allow boats to wait out storms without worrying about losing out to other fishermen.

Exito crewman Scott Powell was killed Oct. 17 when a 45-foot wave washed him overboard about 100 miles north of Cold Bay. Other crewman were injured and left swimming for their lives on the flooded deck.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council also is developing the crab rationalization system. Whether processing companies and crewmembers will receive fishing rights, or just vessel owners, remains controversial. Final action is expected in April.

In 2000, the snow crab fishery was delayed until April because of ice-covered fishing grounds.

The Alaska Board of Fisheries last year rejected proposals to delay this year's season, because of opposition from fishermen who said it would upset plans for spring herring fisheries, and say that storms can happen in April.

''If this last crab season wasn't a testimony to crab rationalization, I don't know what would be, fishing three days with a big storm in the middle,'' said fisherman Walter Christiansen.

A proposal for a ''two pie'' system including guaranteed delivery shares for established processing companies is opposed by some fishermen.

Jeff Stephen, representing Kodiak fishermen, said processor quotas represent an illegal monopoly. He also said that fishermen's quotas shouldn't be delayed by a fight over processor quotas, which he said could be considered at a later date.

Royal Aleutian Seafoods chief executive officer Gary Loncon said giving fishermen exclusive crab rights is not a fair way to distribute the wealth.

''It does not compensate the processors who also have a lengthy investment, and time and money and people in the industry,'' Loncon said.

Paul Fuhs of the AMA said processor quotas could put fishermen at a disadvantage, unless the rationalization system includes an arbitration provision for settling price disputes.

In Unalaska, the city council has backed away from endorsing processor quotas because of opposition from local small boat fishermen in the Unalaska Native Fishermen's Association.

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