Bairdi Landings Outpacing Opilio in Alaska as Potential Quota Cap Issue Resolved
Seafood News.com, [The Arctic Sounder] by Jim Paulin
Fishing industry consolidation has complicated the lives of Bairdi crab fishermen and processors, but it looks like they’ll still have access to the whole quota and won’t have to leave 10 percent in the water.
Bering Sea commercial crab fisheries are underway, with fishermen catching Tanners -known by their market name of Bairdi- at a faster pace than snow crab, according to Miranda Westphal, of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Unalaska.
And Icicle Seafood’s withdrawal from the crab fishery shouldn’t leave any Tanners” stranded, thanks to an emergency federal action. Fishermen and processors had to scramble to find a way to get the full quota without violating rules aimed at preventing competition-reducing practices. Bairdi processors are normally limited to 30 percent of the overhall harvest. But with only three buyers, getting the last 10 percent requires a waiver.
On Monday, Fishermen had caught 62 percent of the eastern Bering Sea Tanner crab quota, and 53 percent in the west, but only 19 percent of the snow crab quota, she said. Westphal said fishing is going slow, “but not terribly slow,” and crab boat advocate Jake Jacobsen similarly described “scratchy” harvesting.
While the Bairdi quota got a big boost for this season, the snow crab fishery took a big hit, a 40 percent reduction.
This year’s overall Bairdi quota is 19,668,000 pounds for both IFQ and CDQ fisheries, up from 15,151,000 last year. The Bairdi fishery is divided into western and eastern districts. The east quota is 11,272,000 pounds, while the west’s is 8,396,000 pounds.
According to Fish and Game, the Bering Sea snow crab fishery has taken a big cut, down 40 percent from last year.
The snow crab quota is 40,611,000 pounds, down from 67,950,000 last year.
The snow, or opilio, crab season officially opened Oct. 15, along with the other Bering Sea crab fisheries. However, fishermen wait a few months before harvesting the little opies, with most starting in January.
The snow crab weigh about 1.2 pounds on average, about half the size of their bigger cousins, Bairdi Tanners that weigh around 2.4 pounds. That fishery is way up this year.
Fishermen are shifting gear, into snow crab, as Tanner winds down, Westphal said. “Now they’re starting to work on snow crab in earnest,” she said Monday, saying that 7.8 million pounds of snow crab have been harvested. She said on Tuesday that 34 boats were fishing for snow crab, and 15 for eastern Tanners and 12 for western Tanners.
An emergency action by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council this month should allow for all the Tanners to be processed, Westphal said. Final approval still awaits an okay from the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, which is expected to be routinely granted, she said.
Fishermen and processors feared that 10 percent would remain unharvested because of Icicle Seafoods selling out of the crab business.
Federal rules limit Tanner processors to a maximum of 30 percent of the quota, and Icicle’s departure left only three, Unisea, Trident, and Maruha. Maruha owns Westward and Alyeska Seafoods in Unalaska, and Peter Pan in King Cove.
“Although there are numerous processing platforms in the Bering Sea, because of the affiliation rules, there are only three ‘persons’ (i.e., Trident, Maruha, and Unisea) with operations that could receive and process bairdi on a viable basis,” said Erling “Jake” Jacobsen, executive director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, representing crab fishermen, in a Dec. 4 request to the NPFMC for emergency action due to “extremely urgent, special circumstances.”
Jacobsen said Westward Seafoods, Alyeska Seafoods and Peter Pan Seafoods were considered separate before Maruha bought Peter Pan and the majority of Alyeska. But now they’re considered a single IPQ entity, he said.
The crab processor’s lobbying group joined with the fishermen in the appeal for lifting the processor caps.
In a Dec. 7 letter to the NPFMC, John Iani, of the North Pacific Crab Association, warned of “stranded IPQ (individual processing quota) and its matched individual fishing quota. This problem is due to the unforeseen exit from the fishery by one of the major IPQ holding entities.”
Icicle, a venerable Alaska fishing company, has undergone various organizational and ownership changes in recent years. When it pulled out of crab, it sold its quota to the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, the community development quota group for St. Paul, according to Jacobsen, of ICE.
CBSFA was unaware of the processor cap, which only applies to Tanners and not other crab species, when they bought all of Icicle’s crab quota, Jacobsen said. The CDQ group had planned to have Unisea process their Tanners, but that would have impacted Unisea’s limitation, he said.
“It was a surprise to everybody,” Jacobsen said.
Re-printed with the permission of SeafoodNews.com.