Coast Guard prepares for red king crab season

Fishermen unload a crab pot containing red king crab aboard the fishing vessel Gulf Winds during a law enforcement boarding conducted by a Coast Guard boarding team. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Erik Swanson.

Fishermen unload a crab pot containing red king crab aboard the fishing vessel Gulf Winds during a law enforcement boarding conducted by a Coast Guard boarding team. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Erik Swanson.

Hundreds will head out on the open ocean starting noon this Saturday on the hunt for 24 pounds of succulent goodness – It’s red king crab season!

Red king crabs are the largest commercially harvested crabs, and the state of Alaska’s principal harvest of this species of crab takes place in the Alaskan waters of Bristol Bay. Bristol Bay’s red king crab fishery is one of the most valuable in the United States, and since Alaska’s statehood in 1959, fishermen have harvested nearly two billion pounds of red king crab worth $1.6 billion.

Juvenile red king crab aggregate into pods of hundreds to thousands of crab.  This pod was located by divers in Womens Bay, Alaska. Photo courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Juvenile red king crab aggregate into pods of hundreds to thousands of crab. This pod was located by divers in Womens Bay, Alaska. Photo courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Alaskan waters are notoriously volatile, and before Alaska’s fishing crews can comb the Bristol Bay in search for the “king” of crabs, it is vital they prepare their boats and crews.

“Alaska’s weather is unpredictable and unforgiving, especially in the Bering Sea,” said Lt. Matthew Zinn, supervisor of Marine Safety Detachment Kodiak. “It is critical and essential to be prepared and have all the necessary safety equipment and gear while fishing out in Alaskan waters.”

Crab crews require an abundance of equipment to make their catch and everything needs to be looked over and examined. From crab pots to survival equipment, fishermen and Coast Guard examiners work together in making their vessels safe.

To further prepare captains and their crew, observers from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will ride aboard participating crab boats throughout the season to ensure every measure is made to provide a safe environment for the fishing crews and certify sustainable fishery practices.

In advance of the fishery opening Marine Safety Detachment Kodiak also provides complimentary commercial fishing vessel dockside exams. The exams include verifying logbooks and certificates, lifesaving gear, navigation equipment and firefighting equipment.

“These examinations ensure the vessel’s safety equipment is in good working condition before fisherman take to the water,” said Ken Lawrenson, the 17th District commercial fishing vessel safety coordinator. “Fishermen will be able to correct any deficiencies before the season begins. We also encourage them to attend the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association training at the community pool and local harbor in Unalaska and Kodiak. Topics will include liferaft, survival suit and flare use training.”

The 2011 to 2012 Bristol Bay red king crab fishery will open noon Oct. 15 and will remain open through Jan. 15, 2012. Photo courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The 2011 to 2012 Bristol Bay red king crab fishery will open noon Oct. 15 and will remain open through Jan. 15, 2012. Photo courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

While there are Coast Guardsmen working with fishermen on the docks, there are also crews gearing up to respond at sea and in the air.

In anticipation of the increased number of vessels operating in the region, Air Station Kodiak forward deploys helicopter crews to Cold Bay, Alaska. Forward deploying the crews allows for a more rapid response should things take a turn for the worse. A Coast Guard cutter will also patrol the Bering Sea during the season, carrying a deployed rescue helicopter and crew.

“We’ll have a crew standing duty in Cold Bay and another deployed to a cutter so we’ll be able to really maximize our coverage in the Bering Sea,” said Lt. David Middleton, a helicopter pilot currently deployed to support the crab season. “The king crab fishing community is filled with some of the most skilled and daring fishermen in the world. We’re standing by, ready to render our assistance and look forward to a safe season.”

The fishery will remain open until the total allowable catch of 7.834 million pounds has been harvested. But rest assured, from the time the fishermen drop their first pots at the start of the season, the Coast Guard will be there ready to respond.

A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Air Station Kodiak is pictured flying over the fishing vessel Bering Star in the Bering Sea. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Blaize Potts.

A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Air Station Kodiak is pictured flying over the fishing vessel Bering Star in the Bering Sea. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Blaize Potts.

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