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By LAURA KRAEGEL  AUG 7, 2019

Republished with permission from KUBC, a non-profit public media organization located in Unalaska, AK.

Fishing quotas for Aleutian Islands golden king crab are up again this year. East of Atka, commercial fishermen can harvest 4.3 million pounds. To the west, they can take almost 2.9 million.

Those numbers represent 12- and 15-percent increases over last season, according to management biologist Miranda Westphal of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“Things are looking good,” said Westphal. “We’re seeing some recruitment coming in. We’re seeing females with eggs. We’re seeing that both stocks look like they’re in fairly good shape right now.”

This is the second golden king crab season governed by the department’s new stock assessment model. It estimates the stocks’ sizes based on fishery data and observer samples rather than a preseason trawl survey, which is used for the region’s other crab fisheries.

Westphal said the model worked well last year and provided biologists with more flexibility to manage the unique stock, which was previously capped by a rigid quota.

“I think the appropriate balance was in there as to maintain the stock at a sustainable level,” she said. “We hit the harvest caps for both [stocks], which is a good situation.”

Westphal also said the fleet has been happy to harvest more crab, especially as fishermen have endured a number of reduced quotas and canceled seasons in recent years. But the good news for golden king crab won’t necessarily carry over for other species, like tanner, opilio, or red king crab.

“It’s apples and oranges in this case,” she said. “Golden king crab are distinct in terms of their habitat. Most of our crab fisheries occur in the Bering Sea. These are in the western Aleutians. The habitats are very different, and their life strategies are very different. We don’t have any information on the rest of the crab stocks right now.”

Surveys of those stocks are still being analyzed. The data will be released as fall and winter crabbing draws nearer.

For now, five registered boats have until April 30 to fish for golden king crab, though they often reach their quotas before that regulatory closing date.

The Aleutian Islands fishery, in particular, is worth roughly $30 million.

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