Mar 02, 2012 | Jim Paulin-The Dutch Harbor Fisherman
With the ice closing back in this week in the Pribilof Islands, the group representing most of the snow crab quota ownership wants an extension of the season beyond the scheduled closing date of May 31, as a precautionary measure.
Jake Jacobson, executive director of the Inter Cooperative Exchange Super Cooperative in Seattle, said his group wants an extension, but is still trying to determine who to ask. While his group, representing about 75 percent of the snow crab quota, would prefer to ask the state, the issue may fall under federal jurisdiction.
"The ice has just been terrible," Jacobson said.
A Trident Seafoods official expects all the crab will be harvested by May 31.
"It's a short term problem, and it's keeping everybody up there longer," said Paul Padgett, vice president for operations in Seattle.
On Tuesday, Padgett said the combination of warmer weather and a tugboat allowed Trident to process one million pounds of crab in the past ten days at its St. Paul plant. The tug not only performed ice breaking and docking assistance to boats in the harbor, it also helped boats navigate around ice floes five miles from the harbor entrance, he said.
The tug Redoubt, from Homer, was hired through a partnership of ICE and Trident Seafoods, with each paying half the cost, Jacobson said. At one point, on Monday, the tug was stuck in the ice off the harbor's north dock, he said.
On Tuesday, the total harvest for Bering Sea snow crab was 38 million pounds, a harvest of less than half the season's quota of 88.9 million pounds. About 60 boats were fishing, and four had completed the seasons and checked out of the fishery, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Unalaska.
Jacobson said the final price paid to crabbers won't be determined until later, after the season and based on sales results. The $1.88 a pound posted by Unisea is only a tentative "go fishing" price. Last year's final price was $2.41 per pound of snow crab, he said.
An influential factor in shaping the final price is news from the competition, Canadian snow crab processors, at this month's Boston Seafood Show, Jacobson said.
The Canadian snow crab, harvested in the Atlantic Ocean, but still the same species, has a larger quota this year, and is sold heavily to the U.S. market, with some also going Japan, he said.
Canadian fishing practices are different, though, and lead to lower quality and lower prices, he said. In the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Newfoundland, the crab is caught by thousands of small boats on single-day trips, lacking the refrigerated seawater systems that allow Alaska's larger vessel to deliver crab in better condition.
In Canada, he said, the small boats deliver crab to dump trucks at the dock for transport to processing plants, and not always in the best condition, he said.
"Alaska's product is recognized for its premium quality," Jacobson said.
Jim Paulin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org