The Bering Sea area Opilio crab season actually opened up on the 15th of October, along with the King crab season however, it’s traditionally been fished at the beginning of the year. Prior to crab rationalization in 2005, the Opilio season officially began in January and it seems to have remained so. That being said, many of the fishing vessels have returned from the Bering sea with their harvest of king crab and after a little holiday break, most will head out for Opilio unless they’re also taking part in the Pot cod fish season. In the current issue of Seafood Business, there’s some interesting historical and current information on the snow crab fishery…
Alaska’s Bering Sea snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio) fishery was on top of the world not long ago, hauling in 243.3 million pounds in 1998 and 194.2 million pounds in 1999.
Since then, the harvest has been a shell of its former self, bottoming out at 24 million pounds in 2004.
But the Oct. 15-March 31 fishery may be returning to its heyday. The 2007-08 quota is set at 63 million pounds, up from 36.6 million pounds in 2006-07. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which slashed the snow crab quota in 2000, has been steadily rebuilding the fishery.
Opilio prices are up this year from Alaska to Atlantic Canada. When Alaska’s 2006-07 fishery was winding down in late April, fishermen received an average of $1.39, up 55 cents a pound from a year ago, with some Dutch Harbor crabbers getting as much as $1.90. When Canada’s 2007 fishery opened in early April, crabbers earned $1.65, up 60 cents a pound from a year ago.
“Alaska is not the market price setter,” says one industry official in Seattle. “Eastern Canada and Greenland are still the primary producers. Hopefully the market can absorb an additional 30 million pounds.”
At wholesale in October, 5-ounce-and-up Alaska opilio clusters fetched up to $4.75 a pound while 5- to 8-ounce Canadian opilio clusters commanded as much as $4.85, up nearly $1 from a year ago.
Through Sept. 30, Newfoundland crabbers had landed 50,184 metric tons (110.6 million pounds), exceeding the 2007 quota by 2,521 metric tons.
Alaska’s 2007-08 tanner crab (C. bairdi) quota is set at 3.5 million pounds in the eastern Bering Sea and 2.2 million pounds in the western Bering Sea, up from 1.9 million and 1.1 million pounds, respectively, in 2006-07. Japan buys the bulk of Alaska’s tanner crab harvest, which was closed from 1997 to 2004 to prevent overfishing. — S.H.