Monday, November 30, 2009

Risky Behavior: Crab Podding in Trawl Traffic

Photo: Braxton Dew, NMFS (Ret.)

"I thought you might like these slides, which show the obvious connection between red king crab behavior and their vulnerability to draggers. Trawl encounters with red king crab pods might be rare (compared to yellowfin sole, which are more evenly distributed across the bottom), but each encounter would be a relative disaster. Because these high-impact encounters are rare, they can easily slip through holes in observer coverage. Therefore, observer coverage should be 100% to provide meaningful bycatch numbers for highly gregarious, patchily distributed species such as red king crab, bairdi, and opilio."

Photo: Doug Smith, former NMFS observer

"Red king crab bycatch from a single yellowfin sole haul delivered by the domestic trawler Vega to the Soviet processor Chasovoy in late August 1981. This catch and several more like it were taken from a water depth of 55-75 meters off Black Hill, Bristol Bay.

"Of the several thousand dead crab shown here, 80-90% were mature females with egg clutches. Damage to the Bristol Bay brood stock, beginning with the advent of commerical trawling in 1980, quickly eroded the reproductive capacity of the population.

"As was typical of these unexpectedly large catches, none of the red king crab shown here was counted or measured by observers before being dumped. The fact that such catches are omitted from extrapolations to total fleet bycatch mean that observer estimated bycatch numbers are woeful underestimates for the period surrounding the collapse of the Bristol Bay red king crab population.

"After this photo was snapped, such impolitic catches began being dumped at sea, away from the eyes of observers, who were confined to the processors. This photo, along with the knowledge that JV trawling killed off much of the Bristol Bay brood stock, is nearly 30 years old. Anyone who sincerely believes that trawling and crab populations can coexist has a poor grasp of reality. "


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

So, let's see ..... If we've known about this kind of havoc for 30 years (documented with photos, no less), why are we still debating whether or not dragging destroys crab populations?

Anonymous said...

Knowledge of these mega-catches, known as red bags — 10-20-ton cod ends plugged with red king crab — was kept under wraps by NMFS. In their minutely detailed annual reports of trawl-bycatch counts during the JV days, there is no mention of this gaping hole in observer coverage, where only clean catches were sampled by the observer and the dirtiest catches, composed of overwhelming numbers of dead king crab, went down the stern ramp and, it was hoped, down the memory hole.

Why would Americans be engaged in the destruction of this great Alaskan resource? Because the U.S. Gov’t, armed with the newly minted Magnuson Act of 1976, was intent on building an American trawl industry and the crab were in the way. There is no way a viable groundfish trawl fishery could be established until the crab, like weeds, were pulled from the grounds.

What did we get out of this? We got approximately ten years of a joint-venture fishery whereby American trawlers sold their hauls of rinky-dink yellow-fin sole to Soviet processors, where they were ground to fish meal and then sold to Africa. The trawlers still believe this was a good trade.

For more than you ever wanted to know about this fiasco, go to:


The Deckboss of the auriga (Seattle fleet factory dragger) told me that as Professional Career Crabber, I was just mad becouse he had destroyed more Red King Crab than I would EVER SEE in My Lifetime. I am SICKENED as well as MANY CRAB DEPENDANT FAMILIES and COMMUNITIES!!..