Sport and subsistence fishermen around the Kachemak Bay area will be able to target tanner crab for the first time in four years this fall. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game received permission from the state Board of Fisheries to reopen the fishery this spring, and the crabbing season will open in October.
Sport and subsistence crabbing in Kachemak Bay, along the outer coast of the Kenai Peninsula, and in Cook Inlet has been closed for about four years.
The fishery closed due to low numbers of legal male tanner crab. The last abundance survey, conducted in 2013, came up well short of the 50,000 crabs required to keep the fishery open.
It remained closed after Fish and Game stopped conducting surveys. Commercial fisheries Area Management Biologist Jan Rumble explained that survey work stopped for two reasons: numbers of juvenile male crabs approaching legal size were not looking good at the time, and state funding was running thin.
“This is one of the things that was cut because of funding and because of the belief that we didn’t see a large cohort in the next couple of years coming down the pipe to open a non-commercial fishery,” Rumble said.
That’s all about to change. The Board of Fisheries approved a proposal to open a limited fishery for tanner crab in March. Beginning Oct. 1, fishermen will be allowed to use one pot per vessel and bag three adult male tanner crab per day.
Size regulations will also be reduced by an inch, and crabs with a 4-and-a-half-inch shell will now be legal. Rumble says Fish and Game came to that decision after it analyzed past surveys. She believes crabs in the area have a “terminal molt condition,” which means they stop growing once they reach a certain size.
“We believe that crabs weren’t going to be able to molt into a legal condition,” Rumble explained. “We believe that this was more appropriate. The size limit was really based on information on other places, and we wanted to have a more Cook-Inlet-management-area specific size limit.”
Fish and Game’s Sport Fish Division has also hopped on board to help fund a survey at the end of August, and it will help pay for future survey work. The Division of Commercial Fisheries has conducted the surveys historically.
The fishery will extend from about 20 miles east of Seward, around the outer coast to Kachemak Bay, and all of Cook Inlet. Fish and Game is hoping to keep this year’s harvest under 5,000 crab, regardless of the survey results.
Those looking to participate in the fishery will be able to buy permits online early next month, and the season will run through February.