Historical Highlights of the Bering Sea Crab Fishery

King crab stocks in the Bering Sea have supported a valuable commercial fishery for more than 75 years, and nearly 50 years for snow crab. Foreign owned vessels fished in Alaska's waters without restriction until the Magnuson-Stevens Act created a 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone. The Act mandated the phase-out of foreign vessels and led to the development of U.S. Fishery Management Plans that formed the foundation for sustainable fisheries. The U.S. fleet has operated under harvest limits for 30 years and only adult males are retained for sale. Female and juvenile crab are carefully released in order to maintain the productivity of the stock.

Since the 1970s all pots in Alaska's crab fisheries have used biodegradable cotton thread in escape panels. This cotton thread degrades within 30 days to allow for all crab to escape.The Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands crab fleet has funded an onboard fisheries observer monitoring program since 1988. Observers are an important element of fisheries research as they document the catch rates and sizes of crab harvested.

The Pacific Northwest Crab Industry Advisory Committee was formed in 1990 to advise the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and Alaska Board of Fisheries on crab related regulations. A vessel license system was implemented in 2000 to reduce the number of vessels in the crab fisheries and licenses were only issued for boats that were actively fishing. With still too many boats racing for too few crab, an industry initiative resulted in the Crab Capacity Reduction Program in 2004, which resulted in an industry funded buyback of 25 crab vessels. These vessels were removed from the fishery and are barred from engaging in any commercial fishery anywhere in the world. A catch share program for the primary crab species of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands was implemented in 2005 and harvester cooperatives were formed. An allocation of 10% of the yearly crab harvest quotas is made available as a royalty to regional coastal communities.