SPECIES VULNERABILITY | ABUNDANCE | HABITAT IMPACTS | BYCATCH | MANAGEMENT EFFECTIVENESS
King crabs take around five to seven years to mature and females spend a long time carrying egg clutches, making them vulnerable to fishing pressure even though the fishery is limited to males. However, females do have high fecundity, producing approximately 250,000 eggs with a 50% hatch rate.
Although king crab populations can fluctuate wildly, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service reports that abundance estimates are all above target levels in Bristol Bay, St. Mathew Island, and Norton Sound. Estimates weren’t available for the Aleutian Islands. There have been strict quotas on king crab in the Alaska since 1981. The blue king crab fishery, which was closed in 1999 to allow for recovery, reopened in 2010. Norway has made a portion of its king crab fishery unrestricted due to a dramatic increase in the Barents Sea king crab population, which is a quickly spreading non-native species, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Populations in the Russian king crab fishery in both the Barents Sea and Bering Sea are currently in decline.
King crab are caught using large wire pots baited with fish such as cod or herring. Since they are deposited on soft, sandy, and muddy sea bottoms, little damage is done, according to the Blue Ocean Institute. However, several areas with sea coral at risk have been closed to fishing, including crab pots.
Extent of Bycatch
Bycatch tends to be low in this fishery, consisting primarily of female and undersized male crabs, according to the Blue Ocean Institute. Ghost fishing from lost, abandoned, and discarded pots can be substantial, though, with an estimated 10% of fishery pots lost annually in the Eastern Bering Sea. As a result, half the crabs that enter these pots never escape and even once they are let out they can starve and die. The fishery now requires degradable escape or timed release mechanisms on pot gear, as well as minimum mesh size limits.
In 2009, Alaska’s king crab derby fishery was replaced by a catch share system that incentivizes fishermen to fish more efficiently. The U.S. king crab fishery management is effective, according to the Blue Ocean Institute. A Crab Plan Team creates an annual stock assessment report for Alaskan king crab, presenting its report and recommendations to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Services. The Russian king crab fishery is not well-managed and illegal fishing is rampant there, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.