UNALASKA (AP) -- Conditions are looking good for an April 1 opening of the state's snow-crab fishery in the Bering Sea.
The fishery had been scheduled to start in January, but it was delayed because pack ice surrounded the Pribilof Islands, where many boats stored their gear, and covered much of the fishing grounds.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will not officially announce plans for the crab season until March 15. But officials say current weather forecasts point toward an April 1 start.
''Right now there's nothing to indicate we need to delay it any further,'' said Forrest Bowers, a Fish and Game shellfish biologist.
Biologists backed a delayed season out of fear that the ice pack, 45 miles father south than normal, would force the crab fleet into a smaller area, depleting an already stressed species.
To open the snow crab season, fishery managers said the ice pack must be north of 58 degrees latitude and 157 degrees longitude. In addition, 75 percent of the fishing grounds must be ice-free by March 15.
Most crabbers have been idle since the season was postponed, and more than two months without a paycheck has many fishermen desperate for work.
''It's not going to save us, but we need that season,'' said Tom Casey, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Group.
Based on surveys, it could be the last chance the fleet has to fish for snow crab for a few seasons.
This year's quota is just 14 percent of the 1999 quota of 196 million pounds, and fishery managers have said the 2001 season will likely be canceled because surveys are showing small populations of young crab.
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