King Crab Fishing History

If you’re like me, then you’re someone who really has no immediate connection to crab fishing in Alaska.  As a matter of fact– Alaska, crab fishing, and the Bering sea are about as foreign, exotic, and out of this world to me, as they are commonplace to Alaskans and all the fishermen who make a living out there.  Nonetheless the fascination and attraction continues and I’ve spent many hours surfing the net, scouring for real historical data on this subject–and I mean information that I can really sink my teeth into, chew up, then inhale–all so I can then add it to my own personal Alaska King crab databank that exists somewhere in the back of my head….  Lately I’ve been trying to go back to the beginning of crab fishing in Alaska–the point at which it all started.  Apparently Japan and Russia knew about the value of King crab long before Americans did, but there was a point at which that all changed, and the following timeline gives a general overview on just that…

Important Dates

1930s – Japan begins to exploit red king crab in the eastern Bering Sea
Late 1940s-1950s – Short-lived, small-scale American fishery operates in Bering Sea
1958 – The former Soviet Union enters the fishery
1959 – State management of king crab fisheries inside and outside of Alaska waters begins. Since statehood in 1959, U.S. fishers have harvested nearly 2 billion pounds (907,185 metric tons) of red king crab worth $1.6 million from Alaska waters, making red king crab the second most valuable species, second only to sockeye (red) salmon.
1960 –Adak fishery begins
1961 – Harvest of red king crab in Dutch Harbor begins
1964 – U.S. arranges bilateral fishing agreements with Japan and U.S.S.R.
1964 – Adak fishery peaks at 21 million pounds (9,525 metric tons)
1966 – Dutch Harbor harvest peaks at 33 million pounds (14,969 metric tons)
Late 1960s – U.S. replaces foreign fisheries
1974 – Foreign fisheries cease
1977 – Secretary of Commerce adopts and implements a Preliminary Fishery Management Plan for the foreign king and Tanner crab fisheries in the eastern Bering Sea, banning foreign fishing for king crab
1977 – Commercial fishery begins in Norton Sound (prior to this, red king crab taken for subsistence use only)
1977-1980 – Bristol Bay experiences all-time record landings, peaking at 129.9 million pounds (58,922 metric tons)
1979 – Commercial landings peak in Norton Sound at 3 million pounds (1,361 metric tons)
Early 1980s – Fishery crashes, possibly due to overfishing, predation, and changing environmental conditions. The top four historical producing areas are completely closed to red king crab fishing for the first time. Red king crab populations have remained depressed statewide, except in Southeast Alaska, since 1983.
1984 – Bristol Bay stock recovers slightly; limited fishery reestablished
1989 – Fishery Management Plan for Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands King and Tanner Crabs approved
1993 – Bristol Bay stock declines again
1994-1995 – No fishery in Bristol Bay
1996 – Harvest rate for Bristol Bay crabs was reduced to 10% of the mature males to allow stock rebuilding
1996-1997 – Adak fishery closed
1999 – Pribilof Islands red king crab fishery closed
2005 – Crab Rationalization Program implemented

source:  NOAA

More to come on Crab fishing history…

This entry was posted in Crab Fisheries, History, King crab and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to King Crab Fishing History

  1. JimmyTH says:

    I’ve always admired the people who do that kind of work but never truly wanted to be one of them. For some years in the 70’s I worked for a company that cast some of the gear for those boats and it was an opportunity to meet some of the skippers and hear their stories, none of which inspired me to ask for a spot on the crew. Makes you look at food differently when you pick up a nicely wrapped package in the store. I like Herman Melville’s statement about it, “It’s not fish you’re buying; it’s men’s lives.” I wrote a contract article about the King Crab industry’s history a few months ago, and as you say it’s a detailed story not many know.

  2. Doc says:

    Ya’ didn’t miss anything but lots of money and ibuprofen, pal. By the mid-80’s it was all but over anyways. I always preferred catching Dungeoness with rings from a canoe in Puget Sound.


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