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Good News for Sustainably-Minded Bay Area Customers and Vendors: 2016 Alaskan King Crab Season Booms

This year’s booming Alaskan king crab season is a good sign for the species, and especially good news for Bay Area customers who care about the sustainability of king crab populations. Image source: Flickr CC user Eric Heath

I know the spotlight here in the Bay Area has been on Dungeness crab lately, and if you’re like me you’ve been keeping up-to-date on the latest news about the local fisheries. But don’t forget about another customer favorite from this side of the country: king crab. Alaskan king crab is having one of its best seasons in recent memory in spite of predictions of a less-than-stellar season.

“From the time we set pots in the water, we were done in 60 hours,” said commercial fisherman Gordon Christiansen in an interview with radio station KDLG in Dillingham, Alaska. “It was amazing, tremendous fishing. We’d like to go out again and do it again tomorrow.”

The Season So Far

This news about the king crab season is surprising because earlier this year Alaskan wildlife officials had said warmer than usual water temperatures would drive Bristol Bay’s crab numbers down. In warm water conditions, the crabs seek deeper colder water, making them harder to reach. But that has not been the case this year. Crabbers had caught nearly two-thirds of their quota in less than two weeks after the season opening on Oct. 15. While the fishery closes in January, fishermen will likely reach their quota this month.

A Slower Pace

In spite of the Wild West reputation that surrounds king crab thanks to the “Deadliest Catch” reality TV series, the U.S. fishery isn’t a free-for-all. It’s actually very well regulated to promote sustainability. Ten years ago populations of crab were falling and Alaska regulators reigned in the derby-style fishery where fishermen raced to catch as much as they could over the course of a season that lasted just a few days. Fishermen must now comply with annual quotas. Once the designated weight limit of crabs has been caught, the season is over. To protect the health of the fishery, crab pots must allow juveniles to escape and only male crabs can be caught and sold. Fishing impact from crab pots on habitat is minimal because of soft silt and seafloors that aren’t likely to be damaged by fishing gear.

In the old days, the rush to catch as much crab as possible in the time allocated meant that large quantities of the product were rushed to port and then frozen. Since today’s pace is more relaxed, fishermen can take their time to reach their weight limit over a longer season. As a result, there is more fresh crab available because fishermen are coming in and out of port several times rather than storing crab in the boat’s holds and then freezing it en masse once they reach land.

The Basics: What to Tell Bay Area Customers Thinking About Buying King Crab

  • Customers should know there isn’t just one kind of king crab. There are actually three king crab subspecies: red, blue, and golden, with red being the most sought after.
  • Many Bay Area customers are looking for sustainably-caught crab. If this is the case, point them to Alaskan King Crab, which is sustainably fished and regulated.
  • Tell customers to buy king crab only from a trustworthy retailer, and to make sure their retailer gets their crab from a reliable wholesaler. As much as 75 percent of the king crab imported into the U.S. comes from Russia, where the species is not harvested under sustainable fishing practices and is often mislabeled as Alaskan king crab.

What the News About Alaskan King Crab Means for Bay Area Consumers

  • The surprisingly abundant crab this season means there is plenty of fresh crab on the market now and there will be large quantities of frozen crab through the winter.
  • Prices of king crab will likely be up, due to a reduced quota this year and the export of many crabs to Japan and China.
  • The size of male crabs is up this year, meaning customers will feel they’re getting more bang for their buck, despite higher prices.
  • Prices should drop as the season gets later and frozen crab dominates the market.

King Crab Is Hot

As a seasonal product with availability that varies from year to year, informing your customers about the state of the Alaskan king crab fisheries will help you earn their trust and sales. At Pucci Foods, all our king crab is sourced from Alaskan waters where fishermen meet high standards of sustainability. Call today so we can can get some king crab in your display case right away.

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