NOAA Fisheries, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game manage the US golden king crab fishery under the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands King and Tanner Crabs. The FMP defers management of Alaskan crab fisheries to the State of Alaska. Under federal oversight, all Alaska state regulations must comply with the FMP, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable federal laws. Historically, golden king crab were first caught as incidental catch in the red king crab fishery. The first commercial landings for golden king crab occurred in 1975, but it was only until 1981, that a targeted pot fishery was developed. The primary fishery for golden king crab occurs in the Aleutian Islands – with localized areas in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska accounting for only minor catches. Up until 1996, the Aleutian Islands were managed as two different management areas, Adak and Dutch Harbor; however, they are now managed as one called “Dutch Harbor Area O.” Within Dutch Harbor Area O there are two separate stocks – the Sequam and Adak stocks – that are actively managed.
Each year, fishery managers set the harvest limit for the next golden king crab fishing season using annual abundance estimates collected by the National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS). The NMFS, along with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, prepares and reviews an annual stock assessment and fishery evaluation (SAFE) report for each king crab fishery. The SAFE report summarizes historic and current abundance, the economic status of the fisheries, total allowable catch (TAC) limits, and season-opening dates as well as generates harvest and stock projections for the upcoming fishing season. Individual shares or quotas are then allocated among harvesters, processors, and coastal communities through the Crab Rationalization Program. This program limits commercial access, therefore, reducing fishing capacity. During the fishing season, fishery managers monitor vessels and catch in real time and can close the fishery once harvest limits are met or exceeded. The Crab Rationalization Program also includes a Community Development Quota allowing local communities the opportunity to purchase shares in the fishery before they go on sale. These shares can account for up to ten percent of the TAC.
Other management measures for golden king crab include:
- Catch and harvest restrictions (only males of legal size may be harvested; fishing cannot coincide with mating and molting periods);
- Mandatory vessel registrations, licenses, and permits;
- Registration for each fishery and each area (a commissioner’s permit is also required for Bering Sea golden king crab);
- Observer coverage;
- All vessels must carry a vessel monitoring system and must report all landings electronically;
- Gear restrictions and modifications (minimum mesh size requirements and a minimum of 10 pots must be longlined together in the Aleutian Island fishery to reduce gear loss);
- Bycatch and ghost fishing reduction measures (all pots must include a minimum four escape rings and a biodegradable or a 30-day timed-release escape mechanism to prevent ghost fishing and reduce bycatch in the event a pot is lost at sea); and,
- Seasonal closures.
The Federal Agency for Fishery (Rosrybolovstvo) is the federal agency responsible for fisheries and conservation of marine biological resources in Russia. Historically, king crabs have been overfished in Russia. While a total allowable catch limit is established for king crabs, there are significant issues of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing occurring in the fishery and as such, total landings are thought to exceed the established TAC limit.