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Bering Sea Crabbers Back Catch Share Program in Five Year Review

(Anchorage)  Alaska’s Bering Sea crabbers are calling the catch share program that has been operating in their crab fisheries since 2005 an “unqualified success.”

The catch share program is being reviewed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC), a federal advisory panel that oversees the Bering Sea crab fisheries.

Prior to catch shares, hundreds of boats would race to load up with crab in wild winter fisheries lasting mere days or weeks. Now each vessel has a set amount of crabs to catch during extended seasons.

Crabbers claim their “grounds truth” proves that the new way of crab fishing is achieving the goals set out by managers and industry five years ago.

The problems associated with the crab fishery were identified in 2002 as resource conservation, reducing bycatch, excess harvesting and processing capacity, economic instability, high loss of life and injuries.  A five year review released last month by Council staff concluded that the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands Crab Catch Share Program is performing better than expected in reaching its objectives.

The report also said remaining crew positions in the crab fisheries are more stable, and crew generally make better pay under the catch share program.

Crabbers were pleased with the review findings, said Edward Poulsen, director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, a trade group representing 70% of vessels fishing crab in the Bering Sea.

“From the harvesters’ perspective, we feel the catch share program has met or exceeded expectations in delivering against the problems it was intending to solve,” Poulsen said.

Notably, the Bering Sea crab fisheries have gone from being the deadliest catch to the safest catch.

Arni Thomson, director of the Alaska Crab Coalition said: “We lost 85 crabbers between 1989 and 2005, an average of 5.3 men per year. Since then, there has been one fatality and no vessel sinkings.  The catch share program has saved 25 lives so far.”

Crabbers say the slower paced fishery is far more eco-friendly, with less impact on the crab and their habitat. Pot usage in the red king crab fishery, for example, has gone from 50,000 to 12,000 pots, a 76% reduction.   By fishing more strategically, the crab fleet uses far less fuel, cutting its carbon footprint by more than half.

Poulsen said the catch share program encourages being “co-operators instead of cutthroat competitors who all benefit by working together”.

The North Pacific Council meets through December 14th at the Anchorage Hilton.

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Alaska Bering Sea Crabber is a harvester alliance that represents all crab fisheries of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. The group is active in research, marketing and crab advocacy at all policy levels. The Crabbers partner with Alaska seafood processors and coastal communities to improve our industry for the benefit of all. www.alaskaberingseacrabbers.org

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