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The harvesters, processors, and communities of Bering Sea crab fisheries have jointly submitted a letter to Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy requesting a fishery disaster declaration for both the Bristol Bay red king crab and Bering Sea snow crab fisheries 2022/2023. The request is made, “as a way to provide much needed economic relief to the crab industry and Alaska’s affected communities along with additional funding for research and data needs within these fisheries”.

National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) policy states that revenue losses greater than 80% will result in a determination of commercial fishery failure, but losses less than 80% are still considered. Since both are complete closures, the crabbers feel that it is not necessary to wait for the final data for a determination. Therefore, they are requesting that the Governor ask the Secretary of Commerce right now to expedite a decision on these fisheries plus last year’s Bristol Bay 2021/2022 red crab application. According to the letter, all of these fisheries combined add up to a loss in ex-vessel value of approximately $202 million.

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“Crab fishermen and processors rely on a portfolio of fisheries to sustain their businesses. This portfolio approach helps them diversify to weather years when a fishery is not doing as well as others. However, in years when more than one fishery closes altogether, income for those affected fishermen, processors, and Alaska’s communities suffer greatly”, they said. This year, all three of the major Bering Sea crab fisheries for red king, snow (opilio), and Tanner (bairdi) crab are either closed or reduced. “This is a devasting hit to the crab industry and communities that rely on it”, the letter stated.

The NMFS policy guidance outlines three requirements to meet a positive fishery disaster determination under Section 312(a) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). There must be a fishery resource disaster as defined in the MSA; the cause of the fishery resource disaster must be a permissible cause under the MSA; and there must be an economic impact resulting from the fishery resource disaster that supports a determination of a commercial fishery failure. The eleven organizations and municipalities that signed the letter consider that all three criteria are met in this case.

Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers tops the list of signatories to the letter. The organization recently told WeAreAquaculture that the closure could have been prevented if the Council had followed its requests regarding conservation measures.

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