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Aleutian Islands crab fleet retools gear for better science

Aleutian crab fleet retools gear for better science

(Anchorage)  Aleutian Island crabbers plan to use pots that will capture lots of small golden king crab in the upcoming fishery.

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The harvester members of the Aleutian King Crab Research Foundation are using a $25,000 grant to purchase 20 crab pots designed to retain small crab – for science.

           The golden king crab stock is regarded as one of Alaska’s most stable and will produce a catch topping six million pounds this season.  But the remoteness of the crab fishery hampers regular surveys by state managers. To safeguard the resource, the fleet voluntarily uses gear configured with larger mesh than required by law to make sure small crab can get out of the pots.  But that has resulted in a “Catch 22” type of situation, said Denby Lloyd, science advisor for the Foundation.

            “By designing their gear to avoid juvenile crab during the commercial fishery, the information you get indicates there are no small crabs down there. To assess whether the population is in a productive cycle or not, you have to use a different method, such as the one in this project,” Lloyd explained.

            The 20 test pots will be constructed with a smaller mesh to retain the juvenile crab instead of letting them go.  Alaska Department of Fish and Game scientists will be on board to collect data on the golden king crab before they are returned to the sea. 

            “The fleet has a very stable fishery and they want to make sure it remains that way, as well as grow the harvest opportunity,” Lloyd said. “By using the commercial fleet directly it minimizes costs for the state and federal government and everyone benefits from the data.”

        Tracking golden king crab is tricky, no matter what method is used. The deep water crabs live on and between steep underwater mountains. To prevent their gear from toppling off cliffs and getting lost, the crab pots are strung together on longlines that can easily be retrieved.  

            Funding for the crab pot project comes from the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation and state and federal agencies.  The Aleutian Islands golden king crab fishery begins in mid-August. 

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