State ended summer Dungeness season early last Saturday

The summer Dungeness crab commercial season ended Saturday, with reports of low catch rates.

“On a regionwide level, there are no bright spots, and generally regionwide catch rates have been down,” said Joseph Stratman, the lead Southeast crab biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

It was a shorter-than-typical summer Dungeness season for the 201 permitted crabbers in Southeast. The department trimmed about two weeks from the season after data collected from the first week of the season, which started June 15, pointed to an estimated full-season harvest of about 2 million pounds, which is lower than the 2.25 million pound threshold in regulation.

It was only the third time in the past 20 years that the department had cut short the summer season.

But, Stratman said, Southeast Alaska can expect the fall Dungeness season to last at least a month and possibly longer pending port sampling data analysis that will be conducted in between the seasons. The sampling data will give insight as to what fishermen saw during the summer months and help determine the potential harvest numbers that could be expected for the fall.

He said people can likely expect the decision on the length of the fall season to be announced in mid-August. The fall season will start Oct. 1.

Last year, the summer season lasted around two months — mid-June to mid-August — and the overall Dungeness crab harvest numbers for summer and fall clocked in at around 4.23 million pounds, well above the 10-year harvest average in the region but not nearly as high as 2020’s nearly record-breaking harvest at 5.87 million.

“Nobody did good at all, it’s one of the worst seasons that I’ve heard of in I don’t know how long,” said Mitch Mork, a former crabber in Wrangell.

Stratman said he can’t identify any specific causes as to why catch rates are down, but said it’s not atypical to see numbers fluctuate from year to year. “From what I’ve heard, people weren’t catching a lot of crabs.”

Studies by the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggest that Dungeness populations will likely face challenges as climate change continues to grow as more of a threat to ocean sustainability.

Ocean acidification has been linked to a projected decline over the next 50 years in Dungeness crab, larval development rates and survival and an overall loss in economic value, according to a case study published by NOAA fisheries in collaboration with the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and NOAA Ocean Acidification Program.

 

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