Regulation changes could mean more Alaska bairdi crab in the coming years

The Alaska Board of Fisheries made changes during a special meeting last week.

After cancelling the Bering Sea bairdi (tanner) crab season in January, the Alaska Board of Fisheries made revisions to the fishery's harvest strategy during a special meeting last week.

The original harvest strategy was nearly two decades old, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers Executive Director Tyson Fick told IntraFish, and the revisions were made now to give plenty of time to implement them ahead of October's bairdi fishing season.

"It's timely and we really appreciate all of the effort from ADF&G [Alaska Department of Fish & Game] Westward Region staff for making it happen," Fick said.

The revisions adopted include changing the definition of a mature female bairdi crab.

"Before, we'd just said anything over 85mm width, we're going to call a mature female no matter where it was caught," he said. "Since then, we learned that the further north and west you go, the smaller crabs tend to be at maturity."

This change will allow for samplers to inspect each female crab to determine more precisely if she is mature or not rather than simply relying on a carapace measurement, Fick said.

Secondly, the fishery is now to include crab west of the longitude 173 degrees west line in the total biomass estimate.

"That's about 10 percent of where the crab are now and it seems like some years a lot more are [in that area]," Fick said.

"As the crabs keep moving west and north, [including them] makes a lot of sense."

Lastly, when looking at previous years to estimate crab population and determine a total allowable catch (TAC), the board will now look at the years between 1982 and 2016 instead of the previously-used 1977 to 2010, Fick said. This would align Alaska's state harvest strategy with the federal process.

"With all of these changes, along with a bit of flexibility for managers to consider when there are times of high male abundance and low female survey results, hopefully we can even out the flow of bairdi crab into the market, so it's not all the way on and all the way off again," Fick said.

"We could see more years with conservative harvest in years of low abundance rather than completely closing it off, which would supply the market with these highly sought after crab on a more consistent basis while still being good stewards of the resource."

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