NOAA Fisheries asks for public participation after Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers’ emergency regulation request

Bristol Bay red king crab. Photo: Bri Dwyer / Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers.
Bristol Bay red king crab. Photo: Bri Dwyer / Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers.

NOAA Fisheries has announced that is taking public comment on the request from the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers (ABSC) to take emergency action to close the Red King Crab Savings Area and the Red King Crab Savings Subarea to all fishing gear that comes into contact with the ocean bottom. In the release, they also say that they will decide on the petition after considering public comments both on this notice and during the December Council meeting.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) release highlights that under existing regulations, non-pelagic trawl gear is already prohibited from fishing in the Red King Crab Savings Area year round and in the Red King Crab Savings Subarea when Bristol Bay red king crab is not open to directed fishing. However, if ABSC's request is implemented, the emergency closures would include pelagic trawls, pots, and longlines, and would be in effect for 180 days after the emergency rule is published. The petitioners requested that this six-month closure would run from January 1 through June 30, 2023.

The map shows the proposed area for the temporary closure of all fishing gear in the red crab savings area and the red crab savings subarea. Source: NOAA Fisheries.

A long-standing demand

Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, which a few days ago proposed a fishery management plan to make all fisheries sustainable and resilient, has been continuously asking directed crab fishery not to be the only one affected by the closures. Last year, they already requested an emergency closure to the bottom trawl to protect an area with lots of female red king crab as a conservation measure, but the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) denied it. In a recent release from the ABSC, the opinion of some fishermen was included.

"I am absolutely stunned that the state would do this to the directed crab fishery and not take complementary emergency action through the Council process to restrict other sectors impacts on crab", said Oystein Lone from the F/V Confidence. "The Council did nothing to protect king crab grounds from ongoing habitat destruction and bycatch from both bottom and pelagic trawl fleets, both of which we have evidence that they drag on the bottom and destroy crab and habitat", he added.

Comments may be submitted under Docket ID NOAA-NMFS-2022-0111, by electronic submission via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal, or by regular mail addressed to Assistant Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS, P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802-1668. The deadline for submission is December 5, 2022.

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