UNALASKA (AP) -- The Bering Sea snow crab season opens Saturday and for the first time limits will be placed on processing plants in an effort to protect smaller companies.
The limits are required under the 1998 American Fisheries Act, which restructured the Bering Sea pollock industry. The changes are being phased in over several years. Companies winning pollock rights were prevented from expanding their crab catches. Now, the six pollock companies can't harvest more than 58 percent of Bering Sea crab quota.
The snow crab quota, at 28.5 million pounds, is just 14 percent of last year's, and with nearly as many boats expected. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports 227 boats registered on Tuesday. Last year, 241 boats participated.
''The projectionist limits were imposed at the request of the crab processing companies that don't also process pollock,'' said biologist Kent Lind with the National Marine Fisheries Service. ''They think it's necessary for them to stay in business as independent operators.''
Crab fishermen are opposed to the processing limits. A petition calling for their repeal is circulating in Unalaska.
''This could present logistical problems, because we might not be able to deliver when we want, where we want, and to who we want,'' said Gary Stewart, president of the Alaska Marketing Association, which represents crab fishermen.
Westward Seafoods in Unalaska is especially hard-hit by the processing limits, based on averages between 1995 and 1997. The company has more than doubled its daily crab processing capacity from 200,000 to 450,000 pounds.
Plant manager Ken Dorris said the new $1 million dollar crab line will sit idle.
''How were we to ever know that it couldn't be utilized? It's ridiculous,'' Dorris said.
Westward's expansion is a clear threat to the smaller processors, Lind said.
Stewart said some processors have suggested a two-tier price, with less paid for edible but less attractive barnacle-covered crab. But fishermen oppose a two-tier price, saying the grading process would mean longer offloads.
Peter Pan Seafoods on Tuesday posted prices of $1.55 for clean shell and 85 cents a pound for dirty shell crab. Stewart said fishermen are expecting a higher price.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.