ANCHORAGE (AP) The Bering Sea commercial crab industry could become more lucrative under a regulatory change approved by the Alaska Board of Fisheries.
The board on Tuesday authorized the state fish and game commissioner to increase the catch of Bristol Bay red king crab by 25 percent if an at-sea survey this summer shows the crab population is strong enough to support the larger harvest.
Such an increase could mean an extra $10 million of more for fishermen in the fleet of about 250 boats.
Tom Casey, a Seattle crab boat consultant who lobbied the board for a bigger harvest, called the decision perfect timing. The crab fleet has weathered tough economic times in recent years because of the crash of Bering Sea snow crab stocks.
''It's big, big news, and we owe the Department of Fish and Game big time,'' Casey said. ''Their flexibility is the only reason we can do this.''
Fish and Game biologists did an analysis that showed increasing the catch would have little negative impact on the health of the red king crab population, said Denby Lloyd, a department supervisor in Kodiak.
''There's really no significant biological downside,'' he told the Anchorage Daily News.
Casey and the crabbers had asked the department to split the difference in the regulation on how much crab the fleet can catch, Lloyd said.
Before, the fleet was allowed to take either 10 percent or 15 percent of mature male crabs, depending on the strength of the spawning population. The population would have to swing far higher to justify the 15 percent catch rate, but for several seasons it has been well in excess of the population that allows for a 10 percent rate.
''What the industry asked was can't we have something intermediate here,'' Lloyd said.
So the board authorized a 12.5 percent catch level.
It means crabbers likely will be allowed to catch millions of extra pounds of the giant orange spiders during this year's Bristol Bay red king fishery, which begins on Oct. 15.
Over the last seven years, the dock price for red kings has averaged $4.56 a pound, and the average catch limit has been 9.1 million pounds. Using these averages and under the board change, this fall's catch limit would be 25 percent higher, yielding a harvest worth an extra $10.4 million, according to a Fish and Game analysis.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.