Crabs mating undisturbed yield greater harvest

Posted: Sunday, March 17, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) - A National Marine Fisheries Service biologist is urging that amorous crabs in Chiniak Bay be left alone to mate.

Biologist Bradley Stevens told the Alaska Board of Fish and Game Friday that there should be a ban on pot fishing in a five square mile area of Chiniak Bay southeast of Kodiak, where each spring thousands of female tanner crabs come to release larvae and mate.

Stevens said his research, funded by a national undersea research program, showed that fishing on a densely concentrated population of female tanner crabs in Chiniak Bay may have significant negative impacts on reproduction.

''Like dropping a crab pot through the roof of somebody's bedroom,'' quipped board member John White, of Bethel, as the board listened to testimony from White and several dozen others on statewide king and tanner crab issues.

Stevens has researched tanner crabs in Chiniak Bay for a decade. He said as many as 100,000 females crowd into an area the size of a football field where they form large mounds containing thousands of crabs.

''Intensive fishing around this aggregation may kill crabs when pots are dropped on them,'' Stevens said in his report to the board.

Stevens also said the decreased ratios of male to female tanner crab threatens reproduction, and said further removal of male crab from the area should be prevented.

Tanner crabs mate by clasping each other for about a week, noted board member Virgil Umphenour. The mating period only lasts about three weeks, ''so you have to make sure you have enough males to mate the females.''

Stevens' testimony followed that of Nancy Hillstrand, a fish processor from Homer who offered a proposal three years ago to create state marine reserve areas. The final authority for such a proposal, reintroduced at this meeting by Hillstrand, rests with the Alaska Legislature.

Also to be addressed by the board are a number of other issues, including one to implement a red king crab fishery at Adak, which hasn't had a red king crab fishery in years.

Arni Thomson, spokesman for the Alaska Crab Coalition, said his organization supports the proposal by Kodiak crab fisherman Dick Powell.

''We think there is harvestable stock out there,'' Thomson said.

Powell, who has fished the Adak area for 22 years, said he hopes the fishery will open the same time as the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery, thus limiting the number of vessels competing for about 500,000 pounds of crab, with an approximately value of $1.5 million.

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