Alaska���s Bering Sea crab fisheries got underway on October 15, with increased quotas and a new management regime. King, opilio, and Tanner crab fisheries opened concurrently, under new regulations established with the rationalization of the crab fisheries, which went into place with the 2005/2006 harvest season. With the king crab guideline harvest levels (GHLs) up 19 percent from last year, opilio GHLs up 79 percent, and the Tanner fishery open for the first time since 1996, the volumes of crab moving out of the Bering Sea in coming months will be significantly increased.
Total allowable catch (TAC) for the three Bering Sea crab fisheries is 57 million pounds, with 65 percent of the harvest in the lower-value opilio (snow crab) specie. Harvesters are expected to target the king crab first, before moving to opilio stocks.
��Red king crab is a luxury food item, commanding high prices in the market place. The most significant export market for king crab from the United States is Japan. From 2001 to 2004, an average of 2 million pounds or 76 percent or of U.S. king crab exports went to Japan, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. Canada was the second most important destination for king crab from the U.S., receiving an average of 16 percent of total exports. (While national export figures may include small amounts of re-exported king crab from elsewhere in the world, it is reasonable to assume that king crab from Alaskan harvest represents nearly all exported volume.)
Trade reports indicate that increases in Alaska���s king crab quota, in combination with increased imports of king crab into the United States, may drive a dip in wholesale prices on newly harvested king crab. Data from the National Marine Fisheries Service show imports of king crab into the U.S. through August were up almost 100 percent over the same period the year before, led primarily by product from Russia. (Imports from China are also up. This likely represents increases in reprocessing activity in the country, as is the trend for many seafood products.)
Data on total domestic consumption of king crab is more difficult to obtain, as no agency gathers data on trade of seafood products within the United States. However, industry indications are that the market in the U.S. is primarily a specialty or high-end market, and is strongly linked to the holiday season.
Snow Crab: What���s in a name?
Snow crab is the trade name used to refer to a number of crab in the genus Chionoecetes, including C. opilio, C. tanneri, C. japonicus, and C. bairdi. Alaska���s largest snow crab fishery is the Bering Sea opilio fishery, though smaller fisheries for bairdi crab (commonly referred to by harvesters and fishery managers as Tanner crab) can occur in Southeast Alaska, Kodiak, and the Alaska Peninsula regions. A bairdi fishery in the Bering Sea is reopening in <2005 for the first time in nearly a decade.> In addition to crab species harvested in Alaska, product from elsewhere in the country and the world is marketed as snow crab. Most significant in the marketplace are large fisheries for C. bairdi in Canada, where the crab is commonly known as queen crab. Other important producing countries for snow crab are Japan, Russia, Greenland, and Korea. World production of snow crab in 2003 was 378 million pounds <what was Alaska���s?>, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.