NOAA Fisheries has denied a request to institute emergency action closing the red king crab savings area in Alaska to all fishing gears through June 30, 2023. The decision was made on the grounds that the petition did not meet criteria necessary to determine that an emergency exists.
According to the federal agency, the available information does not support a finding that the proposed emergency regulations would address the low abundance and declining trend of mature female Bristol Bay red king crab.
The decision was issued in mid-January.
In response, Jamie Goen, executive director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers (ABSC) said she was dismayed and disappointed. She noted that the need for protection of crab stocks was denied on the same day that NOAA Fisheries opened pollock fisheries with increased harvest limits and no additional crab or habitat protections.
“It’s unbelievable given the agency provided new information over 2022 showing the pollock fishery’s gear is on the bottom up to 100% of the time and their area swept has increased in recent years, particularly in areas important for crab stocks and at times when crab are vulnerable with molting and mating,” Goen said.
“And this with gear that has the potential to be more damaging than bottom trawl gear which has made some modifications to reduce their bottom impacts,” she added.
At the same time, Goen said, the pollock fishery is under review for Responsible Fishery Management sustainability certification.
Brent Paine, executive director of United Catcher Boats, contends that the ABSC knew that its request for emergency action to close the red king crab savings area in Alaska to all fishing gear did not meet the three criteria for such action.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council had previously concluded that pollock trawl nets occasionally came in contact with the benthic zone (the lowest area) of the Eastern Bering Sea Shelf but did not damage that area, Paine said.
Those pollock nets had less than minimal and temporary disturbance to the ocean bottom, he said.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is currently engaged in its 2022 five-year review of essential fish habitat. The council developed a revised species distribution model specifically for use in this EFH review.
The 71-page supplemental analysis for the species distribution model ensemble EFH maps for the 2022 five-year review is posted online at https://meetings.npfmc.org/CommentReview/DownloadFile?p=2e1522b4-4ab5-4cfb-a936-337e41f06ba9.pdf&fileName=EFH%20Maps%20Supp%20Analysis%20Sept%202022.pdf