The Council reviewed an initial draft environmental assessment of a rebuilding plan for St Matthew Island blue king crab. The Council chose a preliminary preferred alternative that would allow directed harvest during rebuilding if estimates of stock biomass are sufficient to open the fishery under the State of Alaska’s crab harvest strategy. Official notice that the stock was overfished was communicated to the Council in October 2018, which started a two-year process at the end of which the rebuilding plan must be implemented. The draft EA will be revised based on Council and SSC input, and the Council is scheduled to make a final recommendation in April in order for implementation to occur before the October 2020 deadline.
Under the alternative rebuilding approaches considered by the Council, the St Matthew blue king crab stock could take between 14 to 25 years to recover. The directed fishery has been closed since 2016 under the State of Alaska harvest strategy, and has only been open 6 out of the past 20 years. Multiple measures for habitat protection and bycatch reduction are in place for the stock, and fishing mortality is not considered to be the primary constraining factor. The groundfish fisheries incur low levels of bycatch of St Matthew blue king crab, but in analytical projections, average bycatch rates had no constraining effect on rebuilding. Instead, rebuilding will depend on successful recruitment of crab under ecosystem conditions that have recently been very unfavorable. Warm bottom temperatures, low pre-recruit biomass, and northward movement of predator species, primarily Pacific cod, have constrained stock growth.
Given the intermittent openings of the targeted St Matthew blue king crab fishery over the last 20 years, vessel and community reliance on harvest of blue king crab is relatively low. Under the draft rebuilding plan, ecosystem indicators developed for the stock will be monitored in the coming years.
Staff contact is Jim Armstrong