Alaska crabbers ask for leadership on crab and habitat conservation

Snow Crab fishing in the F/V Arctic Lady. Photo: Corey Arnold / Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers.
Snow Crab fishing in the F/V Arctic Lady. Photo: Corey Arnold / Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers.

In a statement released following the disaster declaration for certain Alaskan salmon and crab fisheries, the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers (ABSC) are grateful for the relief funds but also call on the government for leadership in conserving crab and their habitat.  "We very much appreciate the positive progress Congress and the government have made over the past week to provide financial relief and we know the work has just begun to rebuild the crab resource. It's going to take leadership and change to accomplish it", they claim.

A great start

After U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo last week declared several fishing disasters, including the Bering Sea crab disaster, the U.S. Congress also acted quickly to include funding for fishing disasters in the omnibus appropriations bill to help U.S. fishermen and coastal communities survive these crises and also fund research to help prevent them in the future. "The $300M included in the omnibus appropriation package for fishery disasters is a great start for much-needed money to help fishermen and communities pay their bills", said Jamie Goen, Executive Director for Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers.

Jamie Goen, Executive Director for Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. Photo: Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers.

The association described as "refreshing" the speed with which this recent catastrophe was declared and funded. As they point out, this is a process that usually takes between 2 and 4 years before the money reaches the fishermen and, this time, the first steps have been taken in a record time of only two months. "This is truly an incredible effort and very appreciated", they said. Alaska's crabbers are confident that the pattern will continue through all phases of the project so that financial assistance will quickly reach the fishermen, processors, and communities that need it.

However, while this short-term financial assistance is necessary to survive the crisis, fishermen and crab-dependent communities say they are also doing everything possible to recover the crab resource through additional conservation measures. "Our goal is to do this in a way that keeps every other sector fishing their full allocations while giving crab stocks a chance to rebuild", they said.

Public and political support

In late October, Alaskan crabbers already proposed a fishery management plan to make all fisheries sustainable and resilient. Their more holistic, adaptive, ecosystem-based approach to management in the Bering Sea uses the science and data they have to be proactive in helping crab stocks recover and protect the habitat they need.

Now, their recent emergency petition is in front of the Secretary of Commerce for a decision. "It would create a temporary, discreet area closed to all fishing gears from January through June 2023, a time when crab are in vulnerable soft shell state of molting and mating, in an area known to be important to Bristol Bay red king crab and their habitat", they explained.

As they note in their release, the petition has received strong public and political support, including letters of support from Alaska mayors, tribal governments, the Alaska state legislature, and the House Natural Resources Committee, under the leadership of Representative Peltola. "It's rare that so many politicians weigh in on fisheries management actions, and we appreciate their support for conservation measures to help Alaska crab stocks rebuild", the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers pointed out.

Threefold approach

Alaska crabbers have insisted that management measures must be implemented as soon as possible. "Those need to be implemented now to help our ecosystem and the people who rely on it recover", they said. Secretary's approvement of the request for emergency action would be a major step in conservation measures to help Bering Sea crab populations that would add to the funding Congress and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are already providing for urgent crab research. "We're encouraged by how the crab industry, communities, and state and federal scientists are coming together to get additional research going as quickly as possible", they claimed.

"We've heard from scientists that climate change, ocean warming, and ocean acidification effects are likely to continue to grow in magnitude and frequency, creating more uncertainty in fisheries management", the ABSC said. "Luckily, most crab stocks are resilient and can adapt if given a chance. We have to give them a chance, by protecting habitat and immediately reducing fishing impacts on the stock", they added. "It's time to use the data we already have to implement conservation measures while we continue to do research and adapt our management, as needed. It's also time to look at how our fisheries in Alaska can better diversify to adapt to growing changes and fishery collapses".

According to the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, with this threefold approach of immediate financial assistance, additional conservation measures and continued research, Alaska's crab populations will recover, and with them, the area's fishermen and fishing communities.

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