UNALASKA (AP) -- The Bristol Bay red king crab fishery opened this week in the Bering Sea with the second-highest price ever paid to fishermen.
The Alaska Marketing Association, which negotiates prices for fishermen, accepted a price of $6.12 a pound from Unisea Inc. on Oct. 10. The following day, Trident Seafoods posted $6.15 a pound and several other processors matched that price, according to Erling Jacobsen of AMA.
The price was topped only by the $6.25 paid in 1999 in anticipation of New Years' parties welcoming the new millennium in Japan, Jacobsen said. Processors lost a lot of money when demand wasn't as strong as was expected.
This year is different because crab supplies are greatly reduced due to overfishing in Russia, Jacobsen said.
In past years Russian crab held down the price of Alaska's crab, but Jacobsen said that's not a problem anymore because of an ''appalling'' lack of conservation practices. He said Russian fishermen not only catch and keep undersize male crab, but also female crab.
In Alaska, all female crab must be thrown back into the water to promote healthy future harvests.
The season opened at 4 p.m. Tuesday with 242 boats registered for the 8.6 million pound general fishery quota, dropping 25,800 heavy metal pots onto the ocean floor to trap the crustaceans.
By 6 a.m. Thursday, 3.66 million pounds had been harvested, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Unalaska. Fish and Game biologist Forrest Bowers predicted the king crab fishery would last about four days.
Following the general fishery, a smaller fleet will harvest 695,000 pounds in the community development quota fishery that benefits western Alaska communities.
While crab fishermen still compete in frenzied derbies, there is also a limited entry system. Only boats with federally-issued licenses can participate.
Boats that also fish for pollock are limited to how much crab they can catch. Within the general fishery, 31 boats that also have guaranteed pollock quotas in the Bering Sea can also fish for crab, but are limited to historic crab catches under the terms of the American Fisheries Act. The act rationalized the Bering Sea pollock fishery by giving fishermen and processing companies guaranteed percentages of the catch, worth millions of dollars.
A similar proposal to create a quota-based system for Bering Sea crab is stalled in Congress because of a provision to give valuable quotas to processing companies.
A plan to give quotas to vessel owners and fishermen is far less controversial and would promote safety because fishermen wouldn't face economic pressure to fish in stormy weather.
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