The Alaska Department of Fish & Game released a list of its 18 catcher vessels for the Bering Sea snow crab season earlier this week, even though a final decision on whether there will be a snow crab season is yet to be made.
Catcher vessels host an observer for the Shellfish Observer Program throughout the duration of the season. They monitor crab populations in order to set catch limits and study protected seabirds, fish and coral.
As per usual, every vessel that is pre-registered in the Western and Eastern Bering Sea is listed as an alternative catcher vessel.
Gabriel Prout, a born-and-raised Kodiakan who has been crabbing for five years, worked with an observer in the past. He said he was lucky because that observer meshed well with the crew. But that’s not always the case. Frequently, observers can slow the operation down.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” Prout said. “The data they collect is used and is beneficial to the fishery. But at the same time they are coming into [what is] essentially your home.”
Prout’s vessel, the F/V Silver Spray, is an alternate catcher vessel this year.
After two exceptionally good seasons, the snow crab population in the Bering Sea unexpectedly collapsed this year. The few crabs that remain are significantly smaller than they were just a few years ago. The biomasses for snow crabs in the Eastern Bering sea are almost a third of what they were last year, according to a report published by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.
Bering sea Tanner and snow crab seasons open on Oct. 15, but it is unclear whether snow crab will happen. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will meet and set preliminary catch levels between Oct. 6-10. Quotas for the upcoming season — if there is one — will be announced before Oct. 15.
The 2021-2022 Bristol Bay red king crab season already has been canceled. However, the opilio Tanner crab population looks strong.