Tanner Crabs at second highest harvest level in three decades

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Kodiak Island’s Tanner season is going to be a bit smaller this year but the crabs themselves are probably going to be a bit bigger. 

Nat Nichols is an area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He said a lot of the animals this year are likely from the same cohort as last year, which means they’ve had another year to grow.

Several of Kodiak’s fishers are currently between seasons and have their boats docked. (Brian Venua/KMXT)

“This is a group of crab we’ve been watching since 2018 – the first time we saw them in the survey,” Nichols said. “When we first saw them, it was the largest estimate of crabs that we’d seen in survey. They survived relatively well, so the largest estimate of small crabs turned into one of the largest estimates of legal crabs.” 

The guideline harvest level for Kodiak’s Tanner crab fishery is three million pounds for the upcoming season. That’s about half of what it was last year, but it’s still the second biggest season in the last three decades. 

Nichols said those heavier crabs will also likely also have darker shells, and more algae than last year. 

He said the smaller harvest level was expected. 

“2023 was sort of a peak – that was 5.8 million – and now we’re kind of on the backside,” he said. “These crab are aging, they don’t live forever. So they’re dying due to old age, natural mortality.” 

Fish and Game biologists have been tracking a pattern over the last two decades for Tanner crab, though, of large cohorts every five to seven years. Nichols said fishers will likely see the next generation of Tanners soon. 

“We don’t fish on them immediately, right? It takes them four or five years to reach a legal size, so while this group of crab right now is producing a lot of juveniles, they’re not going to be ready to fish on until maybe 2028 at the earliest,” Nichols said. 

He said fishers should expect an easier time sorting their catches this upcoming season as a lot of the undersized crab from last year should be legal to keep this year.

The Tanner crab season opens Jan. 15. 

 

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