KODIAK (AP) -- The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has announced the opening criteria for the upcoming Bering Sea snow crab fishery.
Meanwhile, with prices looking up, crab fishermen are preparing for the fishery, which is expected to open April 1.
Two options exist for opening the fishery. The first one will allow fishing to open April 1 if a minimum of 50 percent of the historically productive fishing grounds are accessible to boats and the leading ice edge at 167 1/2 West longitude is north of 58 1/2 North latitude.
The second option will allow the opening, regardless of the first criteria, if 75 percent of the historic fishing grounds are open with a good long-range forecast.
The ice edge is currently well above 58 1/2 north and Fish and Game officials say an April 1 opening is likely. They will make a decision on March 15.
''Right now the weather map looks good,'' local Fish and Game shellfish biologist Wayne Donaldson told the Kodiak Daily Mirror.
Fish and Game officials factored in what was necessary to have an ''orderly fishery'' in determining the criteria.
''We felt we needed to have enough area open so boats aren't on top of each other and to reduce gear conflicts,'' Donaldson said. ''With these criteria, we also believe (St. Paul and St. George) harbors will be open.''
The opie season, which normally begins Jan. 15, was delayed due to unusually severe winter weather conditions in the Bering Sea. The conditions advanced the ice shelf within a few miles of St. Paul Island, drastically reducing the available crab fishing grounds.
Some crab industry leaders were worried that the delay would hurt the market for Alaskan snow crab by placing it in direct competition with Canada, but news last week that Canada's snow crab quota is likely to be slashed due to poor recruitment allayed most of those fears.
Market watchers report Bering Sea crab fishermen are likely to get a price of nearly $2 per pound for opies, compared to about 90 cents per pound last year.
However, the low 28.5 million-pound Bering Sea quota will make for a short opie season, probably less than two weeks.
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