Red King Crab

King Crab (Red)
Common Name King Crab (Red)
Market Name king crab
Scientific name Paralithodes camtschaticus

Sourcing Summary

Size

8-10 lbs.

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.

Based on average landings of red king crab from 2005-2014 and using 2016 Seafood Watch ratings, the sustainability breakdown of red king crab is as follows:

  • ~55% of global landings meet a "Best Choice (green)" ; ~45% from the U.S. & ~10% from Norway (Barents Sea)*
  •  ~45% of global landings are an "Avoid (red)" recommendation from the Russian Far East
  • *Red king crab from the Barents Sea / Norway is an invasive species and management measures are effective in preventing the species from spreading
     

Landings for the U.S. have dropped by an estimated 33% in the time period from 2011-2014, compared to the period of 2005-2010. FAO statistics for Russian landings fluctuate dramatically from year to year, with the variation ranging 2-3X more than other years. Buyer beware: Russia export data for king crab doesn't acknowledge product going to the U.S. and in 2013 it is estimated that 65% of king crab sold in the U.S. came from Russia, often labeled as "Alaska king crab."

Product Forms

Fresh/Frozen
Fresh
Product Forms
Legs & Claws
Meat
Sections
Fresh/Frozen
Frozen
Product Forms
Legs & Claws
Sections

Fresh Seasonal Availability

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
nononononononononoyesnono

Culinary Composition

Sweet

Flavor

Delicate

Texture

Cooking Methods

Health/Nutrition

Nutrition facts

Serving Size: 100g
Amount per serving
Calories 84
Total Fat 1g
Cholesterol 42mg
Sodium 836mg
Carbohydrates 0g
Protein 18g

Biology

A small-mesh near shore trawl survey in the Gulf of Alaska has been in use since 1972, and is the longest continuous annual survey of its kind in the North Pacific. This study has been constructive in following and describing ecological changes in the Gulf of Alaska following the 1976 climate regime shift in the North Pacific and ecological responses to more recent climate change. 

The Alaska Sea Grant, alongside other agencies, community organizations, and industries, sponsored the Alaska King Crab, Rehabilitation and Biology Program (AKCRRAB), a multi-year project to initiate mass rearing of larval red and blue king crab in Seward, AK. Growing king crab larvae under hatchery conditions is the first and most critical step in determining feasibility of the project, as well as determining optimal release densities.

The North Pacific Research Board awarded a four-year grant to scientists at RACE Shellfish and the University of Alaska at Fairbanks to conduct laboratory experiments and field collections of Bristol Bay red king crab (BBRKC) and eastern Bering Sea snow crab (EBSSC). The goal is to improve assessment of reproductive potential and better understand population dynamics for these two stocks. Currently, reproductive potential is based on total female biomass; a need for understanding the contribution of individual female crabs with differing life histories is a crucial fishery management need. Measurements are done by assessing: reductions in fecundity during brooding, egg quality by female size and reproductive history, and larval fitness by female size, reproductive history, and egg quality.

Improving upon the cultivation methods and technology for crab larvae, studying the settlement behavior and the use of critical habitats by crab larvae, and cannibalism or predations levels of settling crab will help aid future research. A year-round study in Women’s Bay near Kodiak, AK studies the growth of red king and Tanner crabs, their behavior and habitat relationships, and the timing of grasping behavior and molting. They suggest that females carrying a clutch of eggs for the first time brood much longer than females who have previously brooded egg clutches. Optimal spawning conditions are also being studied based on hydrographic and astronomical data, as well as other conditions known to affect beach spawning.

Species Habitat

In North America, red king crabs are found in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, the Gulf of Alaska, and south to British Columbia, Canada. Across the Pacific, they are found from eastern Korea, the Sea of Japan, the Sea of Okhotsk, and into the Russian Bering Sea. In the 1960s Russia intentionally introduced red king crab into the Russian Barents Sea and that population has since expanded into the Norwegian Barents Sea. Red king crabs hatch as swimming larvae and will float with the movement of tides and currents. After several months and several molts, larvae will settle to the ocean bottom and will molt into their non-swimmer forms. Juveniles less than two years old live in shallow waters generally in complex habitats like shell hash, cobble, and algae. Older juveniles and adults will form pods, sometimes consisting of over tens of thousands of individuals, and will travel together – mounding up on the seafloor during the day and then feeding at night. They generally inhabit depths of 984 feet (300 meters) or less. Adults make annual migrations between nearshore and offshore waters – coming into nearshore and shallower waters (less than 164 feet (50 meters)) in late winter to mate. After the embryos hatch in spring, adults will then move back offshore and into deeper waters to feed, completing their round trip migration. Red king crab are considered to be the most widely distributed king crab species and rarely co-occur with other crab species.

Science & Management

Wild
Science

A small-mesh near shore trawl survey in the Gulf of Alaska has been in use since 1972, and is the longest continuous annual survey of its kind in the North Pacific. This study has been constructive in following and describing ecological changes in the Gulf of Alaska following the 1976 climate regime shift in the North Pacific and ecological responses to more recent climate change. 

The Alaska Sea Grant, alongside other agencies, community organizations, and industries, sponsored the Alaska King Crab, Rehabilitation and Biology Program (AKCRRAB), a multi-year project to initiate mass rearing of larval red and blue king crab in Seward, AK. Growing king crab larvae under hatchery conditions is the first and most critical step in determining feasibility of the project, as well as determining optimal release densities.

The North Pacific Research Board awarded a four-year grant to scientists at RACE Shellfish and the University of Alaska at Fairbanks to conduct laboratory experiments and field collections of Bristol Bay red king crab (BBRKC) and eastern Bering Sea snow crab (EBSSC). The goal is to improve assessment of reproductive potential and better understand population dynamics for these two stocks. Currently, reproductive potential is based on total female biomass; a need for understanding the contribution of individual female crabs with differing life histories is a crucial fishery management need. Measurements are done by assessing: reductions in fecundity during brooding, egg quality by female size and reproductive history, and larval fitness by female size, reproductive history, and egg quality.

Improving upon the cultivation methods and technology for crab larvae, studying the settlement behavior and the use of critical habitats by crab larvae, and cannibalism or predations levels of settling crab will help aid future research. A year-round study in Women’s Bay near Kodiak, AK studies the growth of red king and Tanner crabs, their behavior and habitat relationships, and the timing of grasping behavior and molting. They suggest that females carrying a clutch of eggs for the first time brood much longer than females who have previously brooded egg clutches. Optimal spawning conditions are also being studied based on hydrographic and astronomical data, as well as other conditions known to affect beach spawning.

Management

NOAA Fisheries, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game manage the US red king crab fishery under the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands King and Tanner Crabs. The FMP defers management of Alaskan crab fisheries to the State of Alaska.  Under federal oversight, all Alaskan state regulations must comply with the FMP, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable federal laws. The FMP divides red king crab into four separate stocks in Alaska: Bristol Bay, Norton Sound, Pribilof Islands, and Western Aleutian Islands. Of these four stocks, the largest occurs in Bristol Bay. Consequently, the majority of the Alaskan red king crab catch occurs in Bristol Bay with some additional catch occurring in Norton Sound. Fishing for red king crab has been closed in the Pribilof Islands and Western Aleutian Islands for many years and other stocks are currently to small to support any commercial fishery.

Each year, fishery managers set the harvest limit for the next red king crab fishing season using annual abundance estimates collected by the National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS). The NMFS, along with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, prepares and reviews an annual stock assessment and fishery evaluation (SAFE) report for each king crab fishery. The SAFE report summarizes historic and current abundance, the economic status of the fisheries, total allowable catch (TAC) limits, and season opening dates as well as generates harvest and stock projections for the upcoming fishing season. Individual shares or quotas are than allocated among harvesters, processors, and coastal communities through the crab rationalization program. During the fishing season, fishery managers monitor vessels and catch in real time and can close the fishery once harvest limits are met or exceeded. The crab rationalization program also includes a community development quota allowing local communities the opportunity to purchase shares in the fishery before they go on sale (up to ten percent of the TAC). 

Among other measures the FMP establishes are:

  • Catch and harvest restrictions (only males of legal size may be harvested; fishing cannot coincide with mating and molting periods)
  • All vessels must carry a vessel monitoring system and must report all landings electronically
  • Observers are required on 20 percent of the vessels operating in the fishery to report data on catch, bycatch, and fishing violations
  • Mandatory vessel registrations, licenses, and permits
  • Gear restrictions and modifications (all pots must include escape panels and rings to prevent ghost fishing and reduce bycatch in the event a pot is lost at sea)


The US red king crab fishery is an incredibly lucrative and well-managed fishery and has been valued
betweenUS $45 and $95 million a year since 2001 –with the 2014 harvest being valued at more than US $85 million. According to a 2015 stock assessment, all four Alaskan stocks of red king crab are not subject to overfishing and the Bristol Bay, Norton Sound, and Pribilof Island stocks are not overfished. 

Harvest Methods

Conservation Criteria - Wild

Impact on Stock

Red king crab are found in the North Pacific Ocean and primarily fished in Russia, Norway, and Alaska in the United States. King crabs take around five to seven years to mature, making them vulnerable to fishing pressure. A 2015 assessment of Bristol Bay red king crab indicated that the stock is healthy and the crab are being fished at a sustainable level, according to Seafood Watch.

In Norway and Russia, red king crab is a non-native species introduced to the Barents Sea by Soviet scientists in the 1960s and is now considered a harmful invasive stock, Seafood Watch reported. While management measures in Norway have helped kept these crab in check, the reverse is true for Russia, where the stock range has only expanded.

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.

Bycatch

In Alaska, pots targeting red 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.

Management effectiveness

Red 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 Norway, red king crab is effectively managed as a harmful invasive stock. Measures there, which Seafood Watch noted would be troubling if implemented on a native species, include high quotas, harvesting at maximum economic yield, and allow for the removal of females. In Russia, however, management has not been effective. The non-native red king crab stock range has expanded, prompting Seafood Watch to give it an “avoid” rating.

Conservation Criteria - Farmed

Name Country State / Province
Albion Farms & Fisheries Canada British Columbia
Alyeska Seafoods, Inc. United States Washington
Aqua Star United States Washington
Calkins & Burke Canada British Columbia
Catalina Offshore Products United States California
Caudle's Catch Seafood Canada Ontario
Coal Point Seafood Company United States Alaska
Coastal Villages Seafoods, LLC United States Alaska
Crab Broker, Inc. United States Nevada
Dana F. Besecker Company United States Washington
Euclid Fish Company United States Ohio
Foods In Season United States Washington
Hallvard Lerøy USA, Inc. United States North Carolina
Hudson Valley Seafood United States New York
Icicle Seafoods, Inc. United States Washington
Keyport LLC United States Washington
Lotus Seafood Inc. United States California
Lusamerica Foods, Inc. United States California
Marinelli Shellfish Co. United States Washington
Mayport C&C Fisheries Inc. United States Florida
Mikuni Wild Harvest United States Washington
Northern Lakes Seafood & Meats United States Michigan
Northport Fisheries Inc. United States Washington
Nova Fisheries/SunWave Processors United States Washington
Ocean Beauty Seafoods LLC United States Washington
OM Seafood Company United States Oregon
Orca Bay Seafoods, Inc. United States Washington
Pacific Harvest Seafood, Inc. United States Washington
Pacific Harvest Seafoods United States California
Palomino Foods, Inc. United States Washington
Pike Place Fish Market United States Washington
Premier Harvest United States Washington
Royal Hawaiian Seafood United States California
Sea to Table, USA United States New York
Seattle Fish Company United States Colorado
The Fish Guys Inc. United States Minnesota
The Fishin' Company United States Pennsylvania
Tradex Foods Inc. Canada British Columbia
Trident Seafoods Corp. United States Washington
Vital Choice Wild Seafood and Organics United States Washington