The summer commercial Dungeness crab fishery in Southeast opens Wednesday at 8 a.m. After a record season two years ago, and an average catch in last season, officials are anticipating more crabbers on the water this week.
Stuart DeWitt has been commercial fishing for dungy for close to five years. He’s one of a few fishermen in Haines that drops pots before starting the commercial salmon season.
“I think the price will probably be about the same,” he says. “And I think the catch … I did a little bit of test fishing earlier but I didn’t find anything that special.”
According to Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Dungeness crab went for an average of $2.95 a pound during the 2014-2015 season. Last season, the average was $3.02 per pound, an all-time high since the mid ‘80s when the department started tracking prices. The 2014-15 season was a banner harvest, with around $14 million worth of crab garnered, or around 5 million pounds. Last season yielded about 3.2 million pounds.
DeWitt says he sets 200-plus pots each day for a couple of weeks and delivers daily to Haines Packing Company. He says when it comes to salmon, with small fish and low prices last year, the crabbing turned out to be a more profitable endeavor than gillnetting.
“I don’t anticipate that happening every year, that’s for sure. I think gill netting will be a little better than crabbing this year, actually.”
With the crab season just a day away, DeWitt says he’s busy bringing his crab pots into town. He’s one of nearly 200 permit holders in the Southeast region that will be out on the water bright and early Wednesday morning. Last season, there were 18 permit holders in District 15, which incorporates the Upper Lynn Canal. Those crabbers brought in about 260,000 pounds of Dungeness.
Harvest estimates for the season are determined from the first week’s catches.
“And then it spits out an estimate of the harvest, and if that harvest were to fall below certain thresholds, the management plan obliges the department to curtail the commercial season length,” says Fish and Game’s lead crab biologist Joe Stratman in Petersburg. He says the management plan has been in place since 2000.
“And we’ve only come under those thresholds one time, it was just a few years ago.”
So, the season is looking up, with the crab population and payday prospects healthy.
As far as regulations go, Stratman says not much has changed for this upcoming season, but he reiterated that the time of opening, which was new last year, is now 8 a.m., not noon on Wednesday. Buoy tags bought for this season will be also be good for next season. There are a couple of relatively new areas in Southeast that are closed to crabbing, too, but not near Haines.
Most of the region, including the waters around Haines and Skagway, has a summer and fall season. The summer season runs June 15 to Aug. 15, while the fall fishery is open Oct. 1 to Nov. 30.
“The Dungeness fishery in Southeast Alaska is managed much like other Dungeness fisheries on the Pacific coast,” says Stratman. “It’s size, sex, and season. The size has been determined to allow crab one or two opportunities to mate before they enter the fishery. And then, sex, of course it’s a male-only fishery. And then the season part, we don’t have year-round seasons.”
The seasons are based on when breeding and molting happens. Stratman says this season he’s anticipating more crabbers out on the water.
“It seems like there’s more interest in Dungeness this year. It seems like we’re having some new permits that are participating, so I anticipate effort will be slightly above what we had when the fishery went off last.”
Dewitt says if the crabbing is good, he’ll continue to set some pots later into the commercial salmon season, which starts on Sunday.