The Norton Sound red king crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus) fishery is historically the largest single species fishery in Norton Sound. Norton Sound Seafood Products, a division of NSEDC, is the primary commercial purchaser of Norton Sound red king crab, and therefore NSFR&D is highly invested in the research that is essential for sustainable crab management. The fishery not only supports regional commercial interests, but also countless residents who partake in subsistence fishing. In addition to red king crab, blue king crab (Paralithodes platypus) and spiny king crab (Paralithodes brevipes) are also utilized for subsistence purposes in the region.
Crab Tagging Studies
NSFR&D believes that responsible management of our crab fishery requires an understanding of the migration patterns of Norton Sound red king crab. NSEDC was involved in a joint crab tagging study with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), which was funded by the North Pacific Research Board. From 2012 to 2014, red king crab were tagged in northern Norton Sound (Nome to Elim) and eastern Norton Sound (Cape Denbigh to Unalakleet). Results showed that tagged red king crab generally migrated southwest offshore, but mixed movement behavior was observed throughout the population. Potential juvenile habitats were identified in waters around Cape Nome and west of Golovnin Bay, suggesting possible rearing areas.
Spiny and blue king crab have recently gained attention from residents on St. Lawrence Island and in northern Norton Sound communities. In 2015 and 2016, NSFR&D conducted a pot survey offshore of Gambell and Savoonga to better assess the nearshore spiny king crab abundance. Although only one spiny king crab was observed during the study, 1,418 blue king crab were sampled. NSFR&D and ADF&G are currently investigating the prospects of a blue king crab commercial fishery.
NSEDC has long supported and supplemented ADF&G’s Norton Sound Red King Crab Trawl Survey. The survey was originally conducted on a triennial schedule, but has been performed annually since 2017. These surveys are the most important tool used to set the harvest guidelines for red king crab.