KODIAK (AP) -- State and national fisheries officials expect the 2003 Bering Sea snow crab harvest to be one of the smallest ever.
After reviewing trawl data, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the National Marine Fisheries Service says stocks have not yet recovered.
Therefore, a harvest guideline of 25.6 million pounds was set.
The 2003 guideline harvest level allows 1.92 million pounds for the Community Development Quota fishery. The remaining 23.69 million pounds will be available to the general fishery.
Last year's guideline harvest level was set at 28.5 million pounds. More than 30 million pounds were harvested.
The lower guideline levels are because the snow crab stock suffered a period of very poor recruitment during the late 1990s. Crabs in all size classes declined significantly.
While improvements were seen in the 2000 and 2001 surveys, there has not been a major recovery, according to fisheries officials.
While the total mass of male and female snow crabs in the Bering Sea is estimated to be above the minimum threshold for the fishery to open, if it falls to below 230.4 million pounds, then the fishery will be closed.
The decline is due to a 26 percent decrease in mature male and a 66 percent decrease in mature female crabs.
The 2001 snow crab fishery had a guideline harvest level of 25.3 million pounds for the general fishery. The harvest was 23.4 million pounds.
The 2000 fishery had a 26.4 million pounds guideline harvest level, with 30.8 million pounds harvested.
The 1999 fishery was more in line with the historical average and had a 186.2 million pounds guideline harvest level and a 184.5 harvest.
''The last four years were well below the historical average,'' said Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands Area Management biologist Forrest R. Bowers.
Fish and Game biologist Wayne Donaldson said they haven't seen any good survival in recruitment in the last 10 years.
''The summer survey in 1999 showed that there was a very large drop in snow crab in the Bering Sea. We declared that the stock was overfished,'' he said.
Donaldson said there is no indication from the survey data that rebuilding has occurred yet.
The 2003 Bering Sea snow crab pot limit will be 100 pots for vessels less than or equal to 125 feet in overall length and 120 pots for vessels greater than 125 feet in overall length.
The fishery is set to open at noon on Jan. 15.
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