Ron Kavanaugh, permit holder for the Kodiak crabbing vessel Sylvia Star, is less than impressed with the dungeness crab season so far this year.
And he is not alone.
Last year, fishermen caught more than 2.7 million pounds of dungies, compared to just over 1 million pounds so far this year, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. And, with only slightly more than two months left in a season that started May 1, this year’s yields are not likely to catch up, said Nathaniel Nichols, a Fish and Game area biologist who focuses on groundfish, shellfish and dive fisheries.
That’s not all the bad news for local crabbers. The average number of dungeness crabs per pot is down, from six per pot last year to an average of three so far this year. In addition, the weight of the crabs has decreased, from an average of 2.25 pounds in 2020 to 2.01 pounds so far this season.
As a result, crabbers have been on the water more often and for longer periods of time. So far this year, Kavanaugh said he has taken at least four trips, and each one has been lasting one to two weeks.
But, historically speaking, this year’s dungeness crab harvest is expected to be rather average.
Dungeness crab fishing goes through wide-ranging harvest cycles, according to Nichols, and a million pounds is still a decent number. The last time Kodiak fishermen caught that amount was in 2010, according to Fish and Game. Since then, dungeness crab harvests dropped as low as 69,001 pounds in 2013 to the peak of 2.7 million last year.
This year, crab yields appear to be returning to what Nichols calls their baseline.
The real success so far in this year’s season has been the price of dungies, according to Nichols. Last year, a pound of dungeness crab sold for $1.78, which was $1.10 lower than the previous year, Fish and Game reported. This year, Kavanaugh said he is getting $4.25 a pound.
“The price is finally reflective of what I believe that it should be,” Kavanaugh said. “The fishery itself has been more of a normal pace fishery.”
The price of crab is determined by a complicated number of factors, but the revitalization of Kodiak restaurants following what has so far been the worst of the pandemic may be contributing to the rise in crab prices, Kavanaugh said.
A lot of the processors on the island sell frozen crabs to local restaurants, and an increase in dungeness crab prices is indicative of better business in the food industry, Kavanaugh concluded.
For Kavanaugh, not much has changed in terms of what he is earning. Although the price of dungies increased dramatically, the lower numbers and cost of being on the water have offset any significant gains he would otherwise be seeing, he said.