Kodiak’s tanner crab fishery is set to open Sunday. But the fishermen aren’t going out.

a Kodiak crab boat
Kodiak’s commercial fishing fleet has been preparing for the area’s biggest tanner crab season since 1986. (Brian Venua/KMXT)

Kodiak’s biggest tanner crab fishery in nearly 40 years is set to open on Sunday, but the fleet is standing down. Fishermen say they won’t go fishing for the prices offered by local canneries. It’s the latest wrinkle on a winter fishing season already impacted by closures and strikes.

Processors in Kodiak offered $2.50 per pound for tanners when negotiations started earlier this month. Kevin Abena is the secretary and treasurer for the Kodiak Crab Alliance Cooperative, which represents about 120 permit holders in the fishery. He said since then, all of Kodiak’s canneries haven’t budged from their initial price.

“We haven’t been given anything to consider. $2.50 isn’t the number that we’ll consider,” said Abena.

Last year, fishermen were paid a record of more than $8 per pound. The tanner crab fishery was closed in 2021, but back in 2020, prices still were more than $4. 

This year’s harvest levels for the Kodiak fishery are the biggest they’ve been since 1986, at 5.8 million pounds. That’s more than five times the size of last year’s quota. Combined with the fisheries in Chignik and the South Peninsula, 7.3 million pounds total of tanners are up for grabs in the Westward Region. 

Last year, the state Department of Fish and Game estimates the Kodiak region alone was worth over $10.1 million. 

The big quota this year also means more boats are participating. Last year, 87 vessels fished for tanners. This year, 109 were registered as of Friday morning. That includes some Bering Sea crabbers, whose seasons have been canceled because of crashing snow crab and king crab populations. 

Abena says some processors out west have been offering around $4 per pound for tanner crabs. That doesn’t help the local fleet though, most of whom can’t make the trip out the chain. And it doesn’t help the community, which collects municipal taxes off of seafood landings.

“This is a community deal,” he said. “Everybody in the fleet has spent a lot of money on getting ready to do this fishery, everybody has invested money.”

Abena declined to call it a strike, but the action is similar to a strike in another fishery earlier this year. Bering Sea fishermen successfully pushed up the price per pound for Pacific cod after striking. 

Abena says the entire fleet – including fishermen in Chignik and the South District – is holding out until local processors offer better prices.

“The feeling of unity is really strong, and it’s pretty special,” he said. “It’s hard to get a diverse group like we have here on board, everybody has things that they want to move on to after crab. Some boats go cod fishing, some boats go dragging for pollock. Some guys will be going right into black cod or halibut fishing.”

When reached by phone Friday morning, Pacific Seafoods had no comment. Other processors, including Trident, OBI and Alaska Pacific Seafoods, could not be reached. 

The cooperative’s next meeting with permit holders is Saturday. Abena said if they get the right price, the soonest they’d go fishing is Monday, Jan. 16 – a day after the scheduled opener.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the fishery’s total value in Kodiak. It is estimated at more than $10.1 million.

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