High crab prices continue to dominate all Alaskan seafood as pandemic continues

$8.10 a pound! That’s the breathtaking upfront price paid to Kodiak fishermen for Tanner crab in the fishery that opened Jan. 15.

High crab prices have driven all other seafood during the COVID pandemic, as shoppers grab whatever they can to meet demand at buffet tables, restaurants and retail counters around the whole world.

“Our strategy was to get a price even before the start of the season. It’s just bad business to go fishing without a price,” said Peter Longrich, secretary of the 74-member Kodiak Crab Alliance cooperative that brokered the deal with local processors.

Crabeaters will drop traps for a combined total of 1.8 million pounds, of which 1.1 million pounds are reserved for Kodiak, 500,000 for the southern peninsula and 200,000 for Chignik.

The price compares to $4.25/lb paid in 2020 for a harvest of 400,000 lbs and $4.40/lb in 2019 for 615,000 lbs. No Tanner fishery took place in 2021, as crabbers waited for more mature male crabs to develop in the fishery, the only ones that can be kept for sale. Legal crabs weigh more than 2 pounds on average.

The wait paid off.

Local biologists have tracked one of the largest cohorts of tanners seen since 2018 in the entire western region. It appears to be two large age classes with a wide range of sizes that could sustain several years of fishing, said Nat Nichols, regional manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Kodiak. .

“A Tanner crab reaches legal size around four or five years old, and then it starts to die from natural causes or age out of the population around seven or eight years old. Once they start becoming legal, we can expect them to hang around for potentially three years, and there will be more little crabs behind them. So you can sort of think of that as the leading edge,” Nichols said.

Fishing is expected to go fast depending on three factors: number of boats, good or erratic tows, and weather. A total of 85 vessels have been registered to fish in Kodiak, 47 in the Southern Peninsula and 14 in Chignik. Nichols said the opener could be as short as three days or last around a week.

Crabeaters can expect a lot of metrics, he said, adding that a large group of crabs are going to be “just short of the stick this year”.

“These are next year’s crabs and we want to handle them carefully and release them,” he said. “There will be a lot of sorting and if a jar has 30 or 40 legal male guardians there can be 300 or 400 sublegal males and females mixed in there.”

The strap in the pots will also add to the workload.

“If you have a groundfish trap converted to a Tanner trap and it has a small 3 inch web or something like that, the only way for an untargeted crab to get out is to find one of the four rings exhaust. So that pot is likely to have quite a lot of juvenile and female crabs in it,” Nichols explained. “If you have a pot with a very large mesh web, a lot of that little crab is going to go through and you’ll end up with a much cleaner pot.”

Another factor is the soaking time of the pots.

“If you’re turning the pots twice a day, you’re not really giving the crab enough time to filter the exhaust mechanisms. Whereas if you only pull it once a day, the crabs potentially have up to 24 hours to find one of those rings and get out of the pot. Cleaner fishing is better for everyone and these escaped crabs are for the next few years of fishing. This is the future of the resource. Nichols added.

All traps in Alaska must also use biodegradable twine to allow crabs to escape in the event of equipment loss.

The crab association also plans to try to market the catch as the Kodiak Tanner Crab, pointing to the fact that it is larger than tanners in other parts of Alaska and caught by local fishermen.

No more fish board juggling – State Fisheries Board meetings not only deal with COVID derailments, but also opener disputes. Rising COVID rates caused the board to postpone its scheduled Jan. 4-15 meeting in Ketchikan, where it planned to process 157 Southeast and Yakutat fish and shellfish proposals, and move it from Jan. 10. through March 22 at the Egan Center in Anchorage. These dates come at the same time that the halibut, sablefish and herring fisheries will be underway, and the southeast trolling fishery for winter king salmon is winding down.

“That leaves trollers with a really no-win choice of staying in town or going to Anchorage or taking that last trip between March 10-15, which last year was the most lucrative trip of the winter season.” , Matt Donohoe told KFSK in Petersburg.

To accommodate the end of trolling, the Fish Board will support commercial, sporting, subsistence, and personal salmon-related proposals from March 18-22.

“Putting salmon issues at the end of the meeting also better aligns attendees with the council hatchery committee that was and remains scheduled to be in Anchorage on a new date of March 23,” said the director of the council Glenn Haight in announcing the changes. The tentative order to accommodate other fishing openings is March 10-13 for herring and March 14-17 for groundfish and shellfish.

Recognizing the difficulties for some Southeast residents traveling to Anchorage, the council will take public testimony remotely at select Fish and Game Southeast offices. Venues will be announced prior to the meeting but those wishing to testify remotely must register by March 3. An online registration platform will soon be posted on the Fish Board meeting page.

The council also postponed its statewide shellfish meeting from March 26 to April 2 in Anchorage, where it will consider 45 proposals.

The meetings are open to the public and a live audio stream will be available on the Fish Board website. Written comments for the Southeast meeting have been extended and can be submitted by email to [email protected] by February 23.

Seafood again sets sales records – Sales of frozen and fresh seafood in the United States hit all-time highs in 2021, mainly due to inflation.

SeafoodSource reports that retail sales topped 2019 and 2020 as more Americans opted for seafood due to its proven health benefits.

Data from market trackers IRI and 210 Analytics showed that fresh fish sales increased 6.4% in 2021 compared to 2020 and 25.5% compared to 2019, exceeding $7 billion. Sales of fresh shellfish increased by 0.5% compared to 2020 and by 37.6% compared to 2019.

Frozen seafood sales increased 2.8% from 2020 and nearly 41% from 2019, to $7.2 billion.

Sales of canned seafood or other “shelf stable” seafood decreased by 11.4% in 2021; however, the category still produced $2.5 billion for the year.

The consumer price index rose 6.8% through November 2021, the highest since June 1982, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In December 2021, the average unit price of all food and beverage sales increased by 8.3% compared to December 2020.

Frozen seafood prices rose 4.2% per unit and 5.7% by volume for the year. Fresh seafood prices increased by 6.8% in 2021 and dollar sales increased by 1.8%.

“Strong demand has brought fresh seafood very close to the ‘new record’ finish line and inflation has pushed it to new records,” said Anne-Marie Roerink of 210 Analytics.

Fish watch – The largest-ever harvest of 45,164 tonnes (90.3 million pounds) is forecast for the Sitka Sound roe herring fishery in 2022, which typically opens in March. Similarly, a record 65,107 tonnes of roe herring (130.2 million pounds) can be caught at Togiak in Bristol Bay, the state’s largest herring fishery which typically begins in May.

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Tanya S. Norvell