MARKET REPORT | BUYING TIPS | HEALTH / NUTRITION
Although West Coast fisheries biologists say fishermen off California, Oregon and Washington could catch as much as 25,000 metric tons of Dover on a sustainable basis, annual catches the past few years have hovered just above 5,000 metric tons. Part of the lack of Dover production is due to the catch share, or individual quota, management regime, which was enacted in 2011. That greatly reduced the size of the groundfish fleet and the boats left focus on higher value species like petrale sole or black cod. As the old fishermen’s axiom goes, “We don’t fish for fish, we fish for money.”
Another problem is that the market for Dover is still limited to the western U.S., especially the Northwest. Although with fresh fillets selling for just under $4/lb. Dover remains a good value, producers have yet to spend much effort developing new markets.
Processors have upped what they pay for Dover from $.40/lb. two years ago to $.44/lb. last year, but that’s not even enough to cover increased operating expenses. So for the foreseeable future, fishermen will turn to Dover when there’s nothing better to do.
Pacific Dover sole is sold fresh and frozen whole, headed and gutted as well as dressed, and in fillets, however it is nearly always filleted due to its slimy skin. Dover sole from the Pacific has a delicate taste and firm-textured flesh, although it is not as mild as European Dover sole. Since flatfish quality can vary immensely, buyers recommend looking for Dover sole that has uniform color and lacks bruises. They also recommend against purchasing these fish whole since soft-fleshed fish may not be detected until after they’ve been filleted. Availability of Dover fresh sole varies throughout the year while frozen or thawed Dover sole primarily from Alaska is available year-round.
Dover sole may be substituted for other types of flounders and soles.
SPECIES VULNERABILITY | ABUNDANCE | HABITAT IMPACTS | BYCATCH | MANAGEMENT EFFECTIVENESS
Pacific Dover sole is not actually sole but a flatfish more closely related to flounder. Larger in size than European Dover sole, Dover sole found in the Pacific is long-lived and has medium fecundity. Dover sole are also known as “slime” or “slippery” sole because they excrete mucous that makes them difficult to hold.
Dover sole, found in the waters off California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska, have variable abundance that is considered healthy overall. Dover sole levels in the Gulf of Alaska have been increasing in the past 15 years and the biomass there is now more than double the target population level.
Dover sole are primarily caught using trawls. Other gear used includes hand lines and traps. While trawls can negatively impact rocky seafloors and reefs, the trawls in this fishery target the flatfish in the soft muddy areas where they live. Those areas tend to be more resilient to trawling, so the impact is minimal.
There is little bycatch in the Pacific Dover sole fishery, helped by a relatively new catch-share management plan on the West Coast and gear improvements that help trawler avoid bycatch hotspots, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.
Dover sole in the Pacific are managed with other deep-water flatfish such as petrale sole. Management limits on petrale sole, which was overfished, are expected to have a positive impact on Dover sole, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. Management measures in the fishery include gear restrictions, limited entry permitting, a catch-share program, area closures, and conservative annual catch limits.
This year’s quota for this prized fish is up again to just under 3 million pounds, as the stocks along the East Cast are considered fully rebuilt. As of May 14th fishermen had caught about 43% of their quota. Landings should pick up in late May and June as more fish migrate up the East Coast to Virginia and New Jersey, which are the two top black sea bass producing states. As landings pick up, prices to distributors for whole black sea bass should stabilize between $4 to $5/lb.
Black sea bass flesh is firm and lean, with a mild, delicate flavor. According to some buyers, black sea bass that are caught with hooks tend to be the best quality, followed by trapped fish. Make sure the uncooked flesh is sparkling white and translucent, not opague. Black sea bass tends to only be frozen when the market is glutted or demand is low and because it is a hardy fish, it is also sold live.
Black sea bass can be used as a substitution for a variety of snapper.
Due to elevated mercury levels, the EDF recommends:
FISHERY IMPACTS ON STOCK | HABITAT IMPACTS | BYCATCH | MANAGEMENT EFFECTIVENESS
Fishery Impacts on Stock
Black sea bass are protogynous hermaphrodites, meaning they start as females and mature into males. They have high fecundity but they grow slowly. Black sea bass are divided into two fisheries, the Mid-Atlantic and the South Atlantic, with the line marked by Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. In 2000 the Mid-Atlantic stock was declared overfished. In 2005 scientists discovered overfishing was occurring in the South Atlantic. In recent years both populations have recovered and an early 2013 Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch report stated they were classified as not overfished.
Most black sea bass are caught by commercial fishermen using with pots and hook and line gear, which has a low to moderate effect on the seafloor. Some black sea bass in the Mid-Atlantic is also caught using otter trawls, which have higher rates of habitat damage, particularly to live coral and reef habitats. For this reason, the Monterey Bay Aquarium gave the otter trawl for northern black sea bass a red ranking. Trawling has been banned in the South Atlantic for more than 20 years.
Black sea bass fisheries have gear requirements such as escape vents in pots to prevent undersized fish from being caught. Bycatch in pots is minor because the gear is not usually baited for black sea bass, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. In the Mid-Atlantic, otter trawls are nonselective so there is more unintended bycatch. The Monterey Bay Aquarium reported that the Mid-Atlantic otter trawl fishery was shown to have a negative impact on loggerhead turtles, which are listed under the Endangered Species Act.
In the Mid-Atlantic fishery, strict management measures such as minimum size limits, minimum mesh requirements for trawls, a moratorium on entry into the fishery, and closed seasons have helped black sea bass stocks recover from being overfished. The post-2005 rebuilding plan for the South Atlantic included limits on permits, minimum size limits, gear restrictions as well as rules that prohibited commercial fishing once the annual quota has been met. The Monterey Bay Aquarium called fishery management in both regions highly effective in its 2013 Seafood Watch report.
Don’t look for any good buys on snow crab this winter. The Alaska opilio fishery, which got off to an early start in December – a month earlier than normal – has a quota of about 25,000 metric tons, a reduction of 22% from last season. More than half of the catch will be exported again this year. Chinese processors, who will take almost 60% of the U.S. catch, crank out a variety of value-added products, mainly for the Japanese market but now also for the booming Chinese domestic market. Last year, Chinese processors paid an average price of just under $5/lb. for bulk sections, FOB Dutch Harbor.
Fortunately for U.S. seafood buyers, though, snow crab imports reached a record of almost 60,000 metric tons last year, an increase of 33% over 2012. Most of the increase in supply came from more Canadian production being exported to the U.S., as Japanese buyers reduced their purchases. U.S. imports of Canadian snow crab jumped almost 20% to 44,000 metric tons through the first 11 months of 2013, which is about 75% of Canada’s total production. In spite of the jump in supply, the price of 5/8 oz. Canadian opilio sections to distributors climbed through the second half of 2013 and early 2014 from a low of $4.70/lb. to about $5.50/lb. Look for prices to stay high until this spring when production from the 2014 Canadian season starts hitting the U.S. market.
Most snow crab consumed in the US is imported, with 80% coming from Canada. Best-quality, high-price snow crab comes from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where some Canadian processors use cryogenic freezers that produce a superior product, but most of this crab goes to the Japanese market. Most snow crab sections will be packed with some broken legs in the box and should be checked for excess glaze and broken pieces—the industry standard for broken pieces is 10%. Snow crabs are usually sold as sections or “clusters” (4 walking legs and a claw arm), typically graded 3/5 oz., 5/8 oz. and 8 ups; with 5/8 oz. sections compromising the bulk of the production. The meat yield from snow crab is about 17% compared to approximately 25% in king and Dungeness. The dirty brown barnacle-covered shells of older snow crab shells may look unappetizing but can have higher meat content, making them a good bargain, according to some buyers.
The affordability of snow crab make them a good alternative to king crab and shrimp.
There are no food safety or contaminant concerns for snow crab.
SUMMARY | BIOLOGY | HABITAT
Snow crab – named for their sweet, delicate, snow-white meat – is one of Alaska’s signature crab fisheries. Although the Alaska snow crab fishery has had its ups and downs over the years, management has effectively responded to these fluctuations. Alaska snow crab is now above its target population level and managers boosted the harvest limit for 2011/2012 by 64 percent to nearly 90 million pounds.In 2005, the derby-style fishery – where anyone could enter the fishery and the fishery was closed when the catch limit was reached – was replaced with an individual fishing quota (IFQ). Under the IFQ management system, individual fishermen are given a share of the harvest and can catch their share at any time during the fishing season. This has resulted in a safer and more efficient fishery, as fishermen can take weather and economic factors into account when deciding when to fish.
In Alaskan waters, female snow crabs can carry up to nearly 100,000 eggs, depending on their size. They hatch their larvae in the spring when there is plenty of food in the water column. Larvae, which look like tiny shrimp, live in the water and feed on plankton. The larvae molt and grow through three stages before becoming megalops, which look like crabs with long tails. Megalops seek out suitable habitat, settle, molt, and metamorphose into the first crab stage. From this point forward they look like miniature versions of the adult crabs, and will live on the bottom for the rest of their lives.Snow crabs, like all crustaceans, can only grow by molting, because their hard shells (exoskeletons) prevent a gradual increase in size. When a crab is ready to molt, they absorb a lot of water and swell up inside their old shell until it pops open. Then they wriggle out of the old shell and absorb even more water to increase their size. Right after molting they are very soft and vulnerable to predators until their new shell hardens. Snow crabs molt several times a year for the first couple of years, but as they grow larger they molt less frequently. When they have reached sexual maturity, both females and males have a terminal molt, after which they never molt again. Females seldom grow larger than 3 inches in shell width while males can reach 6 inches. Scientists estimate that snow crabs may live for up to 20 years.Snow crabs will eat almost anything they can catch and break open with their claws, including fish, shrimp, crabs, worms, clams, brittle stars, snails, algae, and sponges. They will also scavenge on anything dead they find. In turn, they are eaten by seals, sea otters, octopi, other crabs, and a wide variety of fish.
Snow crabs have a wide distribution. In Asia, they’re found in the Japan Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk. In the Atlantic, they’re found from Greenland south to Maine. In Alaska they live in the Bering, Beaufort, and Chukchi Seas, although they’re only harvested in the Bering Sea. They prefer soft sandy or muddy bottoms, typically in water less than 650 feet deep, where they can burrow if threatened by predators and where they can feed on the animals living in the sediment.
FISHERY SCIENCE | FISHERY MANAGEMENT
Scientists with NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center annually survey the Bering Sea crab stocks to estimate their abundance. NOAA Fisheries and the State of Alaska use this information to determine the status of the stocks and to set the harvest limits for the following fishing season.Scientists use model estimates of the number of mature males in the population (mature male biomass) at the time of mating as the measure for population status of snow crab. Mature male biomass has increased since its low in 2002, and is currently estimated to be at a sustainable level.
The Alaska snow crab fishery is managed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, NOAA Fisheries, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands King and Tanner Crab Fishery Management Plan defers management of crab fisheries to the State of Alaska with federal oversight. State regulations must comply with the fishery management plan, the national standards of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable federal laws.The Alaska snow crab fishery is currently managed according to three “S’s” – size, sex, and season. Only male crabs of a certain size may be harvested, and fishing is not allowed during mating and molting periods. These measures help ensure that crabs are able to reproduce and replace the ones that are harvested.Every year, managers set the harvest limit for the next fishing season using the most recent estimates of crab abundance. Vessels carry vessel monitoring systems (satellite communications systems used to monitor fishing activities) and must report their landings electronically, so managers can monitor the fishery in real time and anticipate any issues. Observers are required to be on 20 percent of the vessels in the fishery. They collect data on the retained crabs, discarded crabs, and bycatch, and document any violations of fishing regulations. Fishermen must install escape panels and rings on their pots to prevent ghost fishing (when lost pots continue to capture and kill species) and to reduce bycatch. NOAA Fisheries also runs a voluntary buyback program to reduce excess participation in crab fisheries.
Snow crabs are found in the Eastern Bering Sea as well as Atlantic Canada. This type of crab is short-lived, sexually mature at about four years and produces hundreds of thousands of eggs, factors that help them maintain population stability but can also make them vulnerable to fishing pressure. Snow crab abundance is low, according to the Blue Ocean Institute. In the 1990s, North American snow crab populations were overfished. In 2011, stock assessments showed that the snow crab population in the Eastern Bering Sea had recovered from an overfished condition, according to a Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch report from late 2012. A report on the Canadian fishery stated low concern about stocks in Eastern Nova Scotia and the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence but moderate concern about declines in Newfoundland and Labrador snow crab populations.
The gear commonly used to fish snow crab tends to consist of large steel mesh traps or pots that soak on the seafloor for one to three days. Gear effects from pots tend to be minimal in this fishery since they are usually set in soft, muddy habitats, according to the Blue Ocean Institute. The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service reported that sand and silt environments are less likely to be affected than harder habitats.
Most bycatch in this fishery consists of nontargeted crab, females and juveniles. In the Bering Sea, there is concern about Tanner crab bycatch, which are not experiencing overfishing but have medium vulnerability to fishing pressure. Some snow crab pots also catch octopus, sponges, sea coral, sea stars and flatfish that are discarded at sea. The pots used to catch snow crab have been modified with escape panels, escape rings and a specified tunnel size to reduce the likelihood of bycatch, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service and the Blue Ocean Institute.
Snow crab fisheries in the U.S. and Canada have a number of management measures in place, including catch limits, gear restrictions, minimum size limits, and area closures for molting and mating, according to the Blue Ocean Institute. Management of snow crab fisheries in the Eastern Bering Sea, Eastern Nova Scotia and the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence is considered highly effective, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. In Newfoundland and Labrador the management was labeled moderately effective due to a lack of stock dynamics models. Stocks do appear to be recovering in those areas, although the role of management practices in the increased abundance is unclear.
BUYING TIPS | HEALTH / NUTRITION
The highest quality lingcod is caught by hook-and-line gear and when the fish is bled and put on ice immediately. Most lingcod is caught as bycatch in other fisheries, but there are some targed fisheries, namely Southeast Alaska. Raw lingcod flesh can have a blue-green tint, this is perfectly normal, and when cooked it turns a snow white color. Look for a grayish flesh color and/or blood spots to signal mishandling and dull eyes and faded gills on whole lingcod indicate a lack of freshness.
Many chefs prefer lingcod to halibut.
Lingcod is neither a cod, nor a ling, but rather it is a Pacific greenling. Found only in the North Pacific Ocean, U.S. and Canadian fishermen have been harvesting lingcod for more than 100 years. Nicknamed "bucketmouth" for its large head, lingcod have 18 sharp teeth. The body of the lingcod tapers from its head to its tail and its back is usually a variation of dark gray, brown, and greenish colors with copper colored spotting on the upper back.
Lingcod grow quickly and can reach lengths of five feet weighing 80lbs.. Lingcod can live up to 20 years with males reaching maturity around age 2 (20" long) and females age 3 (30" long). The spawing process of lingcod involves males claiming suitable territory for nesting, females making only a brief appearance to lay eggs, and males guarding the nests until they hatch in 8-10 weeks. As lingcod develop they move from eating zooplankton as larvae, shellfish as small juveniles, small finfish (such as herring) as large juveniles, until they become aggressive predators as adults feeding on bottom dwelling fish and shellfish. Larval and juvenile lingcod are important food sources for salmon and rockfish, while marine mammals and sharks rely on large juvenile and adult lingcod as food sources.
Lingcod are found in the northeastern Pacific Ocean from northern Baja California to Kodiak Island and the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, but they are most abundant between Washington and British Columbia. Adult lingcod prefer rocky bottoms at depths of 30-300 feet with males showing very little movement from where they were born and females migrating seasonally to spawn.
There are currently no population estimates of lingcod in Alaska and the populations along the U.S.West Coast are estimated from analyzing data from resource surveys and fishery monitoring.
The State of Alaska manages the lingcod fishery in both state and federal waters of Alaska. To protect this species from overharvest, lingcod fisheries in Alaska are conservatively managed to ensure enough fish are left to reproduce and replenish the population. Management measures:
Current management of lingcod on the West Coast is covered under the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan:
Since January 2011, the West Coast groundfish trawl fishery has been managed under a trawl rationalization catch share program. Managers establish annual catch limits based on the health of each fish stock and then allocate a share of this catch limit to individual fishermen or groups of fishermen. Fishermen can decide how and when to catch their share – preferably when weather, markets, and business conditions are most favorable, allowing the fishery the flexibility to be more environmentally responsible, safer, more efficient, and more valuable. The goal is to allow fishermen to catch more of the healthy target stocks (such as lingcod) without increasing their harvest of overfished stocks.
Lingcod is actually a bottom-dwelling Pacific greenling harvested from Alaska to California with the most concentrated around British Columbia and Washington. They grow quickly, the females are fairly fertile and the males guard nests until the eggs hatch although many animals eat the eggs. Seafood Watch reports from 2014 give lingcod a medium inherent vulnerability score overall. In 1999 lingcod was declared overfished but several years of strict catch limits helped the fishery get rebuilt ahead of schedule in 2005. Assessments from 2009 showed the stock to be well over target levels, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service.
Lingcod are mainly caught by bottom trawls and handlines in the groundfish fishery. They can get accidentally caught by the bottom longline and salmon troll fisheries, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service reported. Bottom trawlers can have a significant impact on the ocean habitat but restrictions in place limit the use of this gear, somewhat mitigating the effect, according to 2014 Seafood Watch reports for the West Coast and British Columbia.
Although bycatch used to be an issue in the lingcod fisheries, bycatch went down 75% following the implementation of a management plan on the West Coast in 2011, the Environmental Defense Fund noted. Improved gear has also helped trawlers targeting lingcod avoid bycatch hotspots. There are generally few true “bycatch” species caught in substantial amounts in the groundfish fisheries, Seafood Watch reports from 2014 noted.
In Alaska, lingcod is managed by the Department of Fish and Game. The lingcod fisheries are managed with other groundfish by the NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council on the West Coast, and by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in British Columbia. The catch-share management plan implemented in 2011 on the West Coast has been credited with bringing down bycatch numbers in the fishery. Management measures include gear and catch restrictions, minimum size limits, and seasonal closures. Seafood Watch found that the West Coast and Canadian lingcod management regimes had strong aspects. However, a 2014 report noted challenges with management strategy, implementation, and recovery of stocks of concern in British Columbia.
The good news is that red snapper stocks in the Gulf of Mexico have been rebuilt and the fishery has received a seal of approval from the Monterey Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. The bad news – at least for the commercial side of the fishery and the companies that buy and sell snapper – is that the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council wants to give most of the increase of the quota to sports fishermen.
The commercial fishing versus sports fishing battle in the Gulf is nothing new. Back in the 1980s New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme made blackened redfish a culinary craze. The Gulf Council responded by promptly eliminating the commercial fishery for redfish. But this time it is particularly galling to commercial fishermen who have made numerous sacrifices to rebuild the snapper fishery, only to see most of the gains given to the sport sector. Rubbing salt in the commercial sector’s wound is the fact that in recent years sports fishermen have overfished their quota, which is 49% of the total quota.
The latest brouhaha over snapper started last year, when biologists recommended increasing the red snapper quota from about 4,100 metric tons to almost 5,000 metric tons. A proposal supported by the Gulf Council allocates giving 75% of any increase in the quota over 4,100 metric tons to the sports sector. The controversial measure is being actively opposed by the commercial sector, including the powerful Louisiana Restaurant Association. A final decision is expected this summer.
In the meantime, commercial red snapper catches keep slowly increasing from about 1,400 metric tons in 2007, when an individual quota management system was enacted, to just under 2,000 metric tons last year. Over the same period the average ex-vessel price of red snapper has increased from $3.20/lb. to $3.38/lb. in spite of the 43% increase in supply. On the wholesale side, prices for fresh whole snapper have fluctuated between $5 and $7/lb. depending on landings.
The main sources of red snapper are the U.S. South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico (both U.S. and Mexico). Red snapper from the U.S. is almost always sold with the skin-on. When buying whole red snapper, look for deep red fins, pinkish-silver bellies, and red gills that look healthy. When buying fillets, choose skin-on as skin-off fillets might not be genuine red snapper. The white flesh of a red snapper should be moist and reflective, free of gaping and drying. When used for sushi, red snapper is known as tai although several other species are also marketed as tai. Beware of mislabeling: Red snapper sold on the West Coast may actually be rockfish, which has a very different texture and flavor
Due to elevated mercury:
Red snapper, found in the Atlantic from North Carolina to northern South America, the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, are slow growing, long lived and have moderate vulnerability to fishing pressure. Red snapper in the United States was heavily fished for decades, leading to it being overfished. The population has been rebuilding to the point where it is no longer experiencing overfishing in the Gulf of Mexico. However, red snapper in the South Atlantic is still well below the target level.
Fishermen primarily use hook and line gear in the form of handlines and electric reels to catch red snapper. This type of gear has a low impact on the ocean habitat, according to the Blue Ocean Institute. A very small percentage is also caught using longlines, which have a moderate impact on the habitat.
Sea turtles and sawfish are vulnerable to hook and line gear, the Blue Ocean Institute reported. In the Gulf of Mexico, fishermen using hook and line gear must use circle hooks and dehooking devices to help any non-targeted fish survive, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. Snapper fishermen have inadvertently caught speckled hind, Warsaw grouper, gag grouper, loggerhead sea turtles, green sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, snowy grouper, Atlantic bluefin tuna, and blacknose shark. But most of the non-targeted fish caught in the fishery are not species of concern, the Monterey Bay Aquarium reported. Juvenile red snapper is also accidentally caught by shrimp fishermen, who are attempting to reduce this bycatch through improved management measures, including the use of bycatch reduction devices.
NOAA Fisheries' South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councils manage red snapper. They are considered moderately effective by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. In 2010, red snapper harvesting in the South Atlantic was prohibited to help the population recover from overfishing. The fishery was reopened on a limited basis in September 2012. A rebuilding plan for the Gulf of Mexico was put into place in 2001. The Environmental Defense Fund credits an innovative catch share management plan implemented in 2007 with increasing the red snapper population in that area. Management measures for that red snapper fishery include catch limits, gear restrictions, minimum size limits, an individual fishing quota program and area closures.
Alaska crabbers got some good news when the state announced in early October that this year’s quota for Bristol Bay red king crab will be bumped up 16% over last year to just under 10 million pounds. Boats can start fishing October 15th and the fishery should last about a month. The Bristol Bay fishery accounts for over half of all the king crab landed in Alaska. More than half the catch is typically exported with Japan being the largest single market.
While the increased harvest is welcome news, it’s only about half as much red king crab as was harvested in Bristol Bay in 2008 and 2009. ADF&G also announced it would allow a small 650,000-pound harvest of blue king crab off of St. Matthews Island. That fishery has been closed off and on in recent years.
This year’s quota for golden king crab remains at about 6.3 million pounds, as Alaska’s Board of Fisheries denied a request by crabbers in March to bump the quota up by 5 percent.
Meanwhile, supplies of Russian king crab still dominate the U.S. market. Last year, the U.S. imported 8,600 metric tons of frozen king crab sections from Russia, which represents a live harvest of about 14,300 metric tons, or 31.5 million pounds. Figuring in the U.S. king crab exports, the Russians supply about 80% of the king crab sold in the U.S. And that share could be higher this year, as imports of Russian king crab were up a whopping 37% through August of this year.
The strong supplies of Russian king crab continue to drive prices down from the frothy levels of the past few years. Since the beginning of 2012 the price of 9/12 legs and claws have dropped from $21/lb. to $14/lb. this October. The price of smaller 20/24 golden king crab has been less volatile and they have been selling at between $9.50 to $10/lb. this year. Look for king crab prices to hold at these levels, although there could be a slight uptick before the holidays.
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 crab may be substituted for other shellfish.
King crabs take around five to seven years to mature and females spend a long time carrying egg clutches, making them vulnerable to fishing pressure even though the fishery is limited to males. However, females do have high fecundity, producing approximately 250,000 eggs with a 50% hatch rate.
Although king crab populations can fluctuate wildly, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service reports that abundance estimates are all above target levels in Bristol Bay, St. Mathew Island, and Norton Sound. Estimates weren’t available for the Aleutian Islands. There have been strict quotas on king crab in the Alaska since 1981. The blue king crab fishery, which was closed in 1999 to allow for recovery, reopened in 2010. Norway has made a portion of its king crab fishery unrestricted due to a dramatic increase in the Barents Sea king crab population, which is a quickly spreading non-native species, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Populations in the Russian king crab fishery in both the Barents Sea and Bering Sea are currently in decline.
King crab are caught using large wire pots baited with fish such as cod or herring. Since they are deposited on soft, sandy, and muddy sea bottoms, little damage is done, according to the Blue Ocean Institute. However, several areas with sea coral at risk have been closed to fishing, including crab pots.
Bycatch tends to be low in this fishery, consisting primarily of female and undersized male crabs, according to the Blue Ocean Institute. Ghost fishing from lost, abandoned, and discarded pots can be substantial, though, with an estimated 10% of fishery pots lost annually in the Eastern Bering Sea. As a result, half the crabs that enter these pots never escape and even once they are let out they can starve and die. The fishery now requires degradable escape or timed release mechanisms on pot gear, as well as minimum mesh size limits.
In 2009, Alaska’s king crab derby fishery was replaced by a catch share system that incentivizes fishermen to fish more efficiently. The U.S. king crab fishery management is effective, according to the Blue Ocean Institute. A Crab Plan Team creates an annual stock assessment report for Alaskan king crab, presenting its report and recommendations to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Services. The Russian king crab fishery is not well-managed and illegal fishing is rampant there, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
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