Red king crab is the largest and most common species of the Alaskan king crab species and accounts for 75% of the Alaska catch, with more than 90% of that caught in Bristol Bay. Alternatively, golden king crab is the smallest of the Alaskan king crab species and is found mostly in the Aleutian Islands. King crab is low in saturated fat and a good source of vitamin B12, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and selenium. It has fleshy claws and legs with sweet, rich meat, and crab caught later in the year tends to have a higher meat fill. King crab is sold as sections, claws, legs, and split legs bandsawed down the middle.
Most king crab is delivered live to shore-based processors and cooked while live and then brine frozen; some king crab is processed on board catcher processors. Some buyers say that shore-based processors use more fresh water than fishermen who process onboard, resulting in a less salty product. Glaze for king crab should be 3-5% so it’s recommended that periodic glaze tests be done on crab legs to make sure you’re not paying for water. Be sure to check that the count is correct; king crab are graded by the number of walking legs per 10 pounds. Hence, a 20-pound box of 9/12 count king crab should contain 18 - 24 walking legs. Industry standard king crab packs contain 1.5 pounds of "broken" crab per 20lb. box
Buyer beware: Russian king crab is sometimes mislabeled as “Alaska king crab” and sold in the U.S.
King crabs are found in the North Pacific Ocean and primarily fished in Alaska and Russia. They are relatively slow to mature, making them vulnerable to fishing pressure. A 2015 assessment of Aleutian Islands golden king crab indicated that the stock is healthy and the crab are being fished at a sustainable level, according to Seafood Watch.
In Russia, king crab have been historically overfished and area closures have not been effective in the face of continued illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Seafood Watch warned that Russia’s commercially important crab stocks, which include golden king crab, have the potential to collapse.
Habitat impacts (Wild)
King crab is mainly caught using pot and trap gear. Large baited wire pots are usually deposited on soft, muddy sea bottoms and make contact with a smaller area of the seafloor than mobile gear. This causes less damage, according to Seafood Watch. Management strategies are also in place in the United States that further reduce habitat impacts.
In Alaska, pots targeting golden king crab can incidentally catch a range of fish and invertebrates including octopus, Pacific cod, sponges, sea stars, and coral. However, overall bycatch is very low and the species caught are not of conservation concern, Seafood Watch reported in 2015. Management measures for U.S. king crab include restrictions on gear and fishing areas that reduce bycatch. Pots are required to have minimum mesh size limits as well as degradable escape or timed release mechanisms to prevent ghost fishing.
Golden king crab in the U.S. are managed by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. In 2009, Alaska’s king crab derby fishery was replaced by a catch share system that incentivizes fishermen to fish more efficiently. Management measures include stock assessments, harvest limits, gear restrictions, and observer coverage. Management strategy implementation varies, though, so some stock data is limited. Seafood Watch called king crab management in Alaska moderate to highly effective. In Russia, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing of crab is nearly twice the total allowable catch. Citing 2014 research from the World Wildlife Fund, Seafood Watch noted poor enforcement, tracking, and recordkeeping in Russia. While bilateral agreements between Russia and major crab importers have reduced IUU fishing, it still remains so high for crab that the stocks are at risk of collapsing and Seafood Watch gave the Russian Far East commercially important crab fisheries a critical rating.