State closes Bering Sea snow crab fishery

Posted: Thursday, February 15, 2001

UNALASKA (AP) -- State Fish and Game biologists announced Wednesday they would close the Bering Sea snow crab regular season just before midnight.

The season opened Jan. 15, but nearly all the 200-plus vessels waited to start fishing until Feb. 3, following a strike that ended when fishermen accepted $1.55 per pound from processors in Unalaska, St. Paul, King Cove, and Akutan.

The season was punctuated by storms, strong winds and tall waves that crashed through windows of five crabbers harvesting shellfish in heavy metal pots.

''We've had a lot of really heavy currents, and the big tides and currents coupled with high winds going the other way makes real steep waves,'' said shellfish biologist Rance Morrison. ''That's probably one reason we've lost so many windows. A lot of vessels have had their windows blown out this year, probably more so than normal.''

Fishermen face economic pressure to fish in stormy weather in the existing competitive system. The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council is studying a quota or cooperative system that Morrison says would make for a safer fishery.

''If they were given some specific amount they could go and catch, I don't think there'd be anybody fishing right now. They'd be waiting for better weather,'' Morrison said.

The season's catch through 6 a.m. Wednesday was 21 million pounds out of an open-access quota of 25.3 million pounds.

Some fishermen worried they wouldn't have enough time to reach the quota, said Morrison. But he said twice as many crab are usually caught on the last day. He said he would not be surprised if fishermen once again exceed the quota for the Opilio tanner crab, which is marketed as snow crab.

Crabs have been averaging 1.4 pounds.

Following the open access closure Wednesday night, another 2 million pounds of snow crab remains for 11 crab boats expected to transfer into the community development quota fishery that benefits rural Western Alaska communities.

Most of those boats are owned or partially owned by regional CDQ groups, according to state biologist Robert Gish in Unalaska.

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