North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s crab planners visits Nome

Members of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Crab Plan Team visited Nome last week to have a look at the nuts and bolts reality of fishing for red king crab crabbing through the ice. The group was taken out a half mile off the beach near the port where a demonstration hole was cut in the ice and a crab pot lowered. Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Luke Henslee and fish biologist Charlie Lean were the guides.

The Crab Plan Team’s purpose is to provide the NPFMC with the best possible scientific information. This includes recommendations on appropriate measures for the management of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands king and Tanner crab fisheries.

“This was their first meeting in Nome,” said ADF&G fisheries biologist Luke Henslee. “Usually they meet in Seattle or Anchorage. There’s been a lot of interest in Norton Sound king crab fisheries lately. We’ve been getting more data with our bottom trawls and this is a region that’s been an area of interest for them for a while now. I think they wanted to come up and get a first hand look at how the fishery works. It’s a pretty unique winter fishery in that we set pots through the ice. A lot of the folks had never seen or experienced that before. We made sure to take them out and give them a demonstration on how subsistence and commercial fishermen set pots.”

The Crab Plan Team has several meetings a year and the trip to Nome included a meeting. The different agencies need to get together to share information and give updates. The Bering Sea trawl surveys done by NOAA are a large part of the program and normally that information is disseminated in the January meeting. Because of the federal shutdown NOAA scientists did not attend the meeting.

The NPFMC appoints plan teams for each of the major fishery management plans. The members of each team are selected from research or management groups, which have a role in the particular fishery. The idea is that the team is small enough to work effectively as a group and large enough to have expertise in the critical areas of the fishery.

“There are several different Alaskan shellfish fisheries that they’re concerned with,” said Henslee. “There’s a lot of information, a staggering amount of data, a huge amount of work. This was an opportunity for a lot of different research and management and government agencies to come together and brainstorm and disseminate data.”

“I think everyone had a lot of fun,” he said. “Most of the folks who were here live in Alaska. So they were from Kodiak, Juneau, Dutch Harbor, Fairbanks. They’re all familiar with Alaska’s bad weather. We were telling them at the start ‘Whether we go out on the ice is weather dependent.’ It’s one of those things you can describe to somebody and they can get an idea of it but until you actually go out on the ice and you’re drilling holes and dropping pots you don’t actually quite get a grasp of what all goes into it. So I think they have a good appreciation of what our commercial and subsistence fishermen go through and the amount of work it takes to harvest these crab. Now they have a first hand look at how we fish out here.”

The Nome subsistence fishery is open year round. The commercial fishery opens when Fish and Game likes what is going on with the ice. “We don’t like to have the commercial season open while the ice is not very stable,” said Henslee. 

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