NOME – The Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation (NSEDC) Board of Directors convened for a special meeting this week and voted to purchase Norton Sound red king crab in the summer 2022 commercial season.
Following a poor commercial season in 2019 and survey results that showed an increasing scarcity of crab available for harvest, the Norton Sound red king crab summer and winter commercial fisheries were closed for the 2020 season at the direction of the Alaska Board of Fisheries. In the interest of preserving the stock, NSEDC elected to not purchase crab in 2021 despite the regulatory reopening of the fishery. Fisheries data indicated that crab stock had declined significantly in the previous several years, and NSEDC shared the concerns of other regional stakeholders that a commercial harvest would hinder the recovery of the population.
After two years of decreased fishing pressure and the maturing of new cohort of crab, data now indicate that crab populations have rebounded to a level that allows for responsible harvest. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) summer trawl survey from 2021, which provides essential data for establishing crab harvest guidelines, showed a significant pulse of legal sized male crab moving into the fishery and reports of productive winter subsistence fishing appears to support that finding.
“It has been very difficult to see our hard-working commercial fishers sidelined for the last two years as the Norton Sound red king crab fishery recovered,” said NSEDC Board Chairman Frank Katchatag. “We need to thank these fishers for their foresight, support, and sacrifice in allowing the stock to rebuild for both subsistence and commercial harvest. They have been true stewards of the resource, and their commitment to the health of the fishery will hopefully pay off for years to come and for the fishers who will follow in their footsteps.”
The summer commercial fishery typically starts at the end of June or early July. During the season, NSEDC will closely monitor harvests and work with the fishery stakeholders to ensure that the Norton Sound red king crab fishery is sustainable.