The last pots are being hauled in Alaska’s biggest crab fishery, and by all accounts it’s been a good one, with all hands home safe.
“Everyone I have spoken with has said it’s been a really smooth snow crab fishery this year,” said Heather Fitch, area shellfish manager at the Fish and Game office at Dutch Harbor. “We didn’t have any problems with ice, and it got wrapped up really quickly.
On Friday just three crab boats remained on the Bering Sea grounds finishing off their shares of the 49 million-pound catch quota. A fleet of 67 vessels took part in the snow crab fishery, which traditionally gets under way in mid-January. Only legal-sized male crabs are retained in all of Alaska’s crab fisheries; females and small crabs are sorted out and returned to the sea.
Fitch said this season’s snow crab hauls have been hefty, averaging 250 per pot. The crabs also are bigger by several ounces, averaging close to 1.5 pounds.
“Our average pack is 5- to 8- ounce clusters, and with some of the deliveries this year, half of the load is 8 and ups,” said Jake Jacobsen, a veteran Bering Sea crabber and director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, a harvester group. “The slower pace of the fishery allows longer soaking time for the gear, leading to better catches, and the larger crab means it doesn’t take as many of them to accumulate pounds.”
Another plus: the shell quality of the snow crab is excellent, making it more appealing to buyers. The average price to fishermen, not including post season adjustments, is $2.12 per pound, compared to $1.25 last year. That means the value of the Bering Sea snow crab fishery will top $103 million at the Alaska docks.
Alaska and the U.S. can’t lay any claim to the Arctic, unless it signs on to the Law of the Sea Treaty, appropriately called LOST.
“As an Arctic nation we have an opportunity as to extend our territory on the outer continental shelf to an area nearly the size of California. That would be available to us for resource exploration and development,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski has lamented for years.
Russia has already planted a flag on the seabed at the North Pole, and is building the first offshore oil rig to withstand extreme cold and pack ice. Norway has staked claims to vast oil and gas deposits, and Canada has plans for an Arctic military training base. Meanwhile, the US remains sidelined.
The Law of the Sea Treaty originated in 1982 by the UN as a way to govern activities on, over, and beneath the oceans. But some provisions were strongly opposed by then President Reagan and the U.S. has never signed on.
“Part of it is we have a couple senators who believe it will take away our ability to manage our own waters. The reality is that every day we are not part of this agreement, we’re losing part of our sovereignty,” said Sen. Mark Begich.
Both Begich and Murkowski believe it is time for their Senate colleagues to get with the times.
“They need to broaden their worldwide view,” Begich said. “We are part of a world economy and we have to determine our rights of ownership to the Arctic. When you think of the countries that have not signed on to the treaty — Libya, Iran, North Korea — I’m not sure we want to be in that company, but we are.”
“You need to look at the treaty as it is today in terms of what is going on in energy issues, and our quest to be more energy independent,” Murkowski said.
The other Arctic nations have pledged support for LOST as the legal framework for governance. If Congress does not ratify the treaty this session, it’s back to the drawing board next year.
Coming up at Kodiak mid-month is a first-ever marine science extravaganza, Whale Fest, and the 32nd ComFish trade show.
Fisheries are booming this year and that’s buoyed interest in making the trip to “the Rock” this spring. The 40 or so trade show booths sold out in record time, said Kodiak Chamber of Commerce director Trevor Brown, host of ComFish, and the combined events should bring about 3,000 visitors to town. Among them will be Sen. Mark Begich, along with two of the nation’s top fish news providers: John Sackton of Seafood.com and Don McManman of Pacific Fishing magazine.
“Kodiak is sort of a one-stop shop to see the diversity of Alaskan fisheries, and it has always been very active in fish policy issues. And I just plain like to talk fish,” said Sackton, who will travel from the Boston area to participate in a ComFish seafood marketing panel.
It will be McManman’s first visit to Kodiak, he said.
“I saw it on the horizon it when I was fishing halibut, but I’ve never set foot on it. So, I’m excited to see what one guy calls ‘Fishing Town, U.S.A.’ I like it best when I can listen to fishermen,” McManman said.
ComFish runs April 14-16 and includes a diverse line-up of fishery presentations. Begich will close out the show during an open forum on Saturday afternoon. Begich said he will talk about fishery and Coast Guard issues in Washington, D.C., and take questions and comments. See the schedule of events and locations at www.comfishalaska.com.
Organizers of Kodiak’s first marine science symposium hope ComFish visitors will come a few days early to join their lineup. Over three days (April 10-12) local researchers will share decades of marine science results and questions with the community at the Fish Tech and NOAA research facilities.
“Everything in the ocean is connected and we want to show the community how what we do in our labs directly affects their lives,” said event co-organizer Kate Wynn, a marine mammal expert with Alaska Sea Grant, sponsor of the symposium. Get details at www.alaskaseagrant.org.
To complete the trifecta, ongoing through it all is the 15th annual Whale Fest, a 10-day celebration of the return of Eastern Pacific gray whales to Alaska waters. Kodiak Island is positioned so that nearly all of the whales pass by on their journey north, and many remain around the island until it’s time to migrate south again. See www.whalefestkodiak.com.