Red king crab stock trends in the Russian Far East
The below table shows that introduction of the low quota regime and the fishery ban in the West Kamchatka shelf have produced positive results as in the year 2007 the fishermen have again received a red king crab quota for commercial fishery in the area.
Table 1: Red king crab TACs by years and quota types
Table 1: Red king crab TACs by years and fishing zones/subareas
According to the stock surveys, crab ppopulations of the Petropavlovsk Komandor subarea and the North Kurile zone are in dispersed condition, there are no fishable concentrations, the abundance of the fishing stock is low therefore the crab fishery is allowed only under the research quotas.
In 1960s the red king crab harvest in the South Kurile zone reached 6000 tonnes. The surveys of 2004 disclosed a triple decrease of the male abundance in catches as compared to 2003. In the recent years the crab schools remained in depleted condition. The ban for commercial fishery in the area is still in force. The TAC is set only for the stock research purposes with the surveys to be conducted in spring and autumn.
Up through mid-1990s red king crab had been the second most important shelf species in the Sea of Japan, inferior only to snow crab opilio. Overexploitation of the species had resulted into a fall of the stock abundance and caused a ban for the red king crab fishery to the south of the Zolotoy Cape.
In the near future the fishery situation is not expected to improve and, according to the scientific recommendations, the ban for the commercial fishery of the species has been extended with the TAC allowed to be exploited only for research purposes.
The Ayano-Shantarsk red king crab fishery in the North Okhotsk subarea has also been non-stable in the recent decade. In the previous two years the harvest of the species did not exceed 65% of the TAC. With a 10%-share from the fishing stock the TAC of the species for the current year 2007 has been set at 1600 tonnes, of which 198 tonnes has been given for research purposes.
The West Kamchatka population of the red king crab has been actively exploited by the Russian fishermen. Until 1998 the TACs and actual catches of red king crab in the shelf of the West Kamchatka did not differ much. In the years 1998 and 1999 the industry reported about a considerable overexploitation of red king crab stocks even according to the official statistics: the actual harvest exceeded the TAC by 24% in 1998 and 11% in 1999. In the year 1998 there were up to 60 vessels operating on the red king crab grounds with the daily catch rates reported at 4.6 tonnes per ship. In the following year 1999 the fishing efforts in the area grew to 97 ships, but the daily catches dropped to 3.2 tonnes per ship. In 2000 the daily rates did not exceed 2.1 tonnes per ship. As a result, in early 2000s the abundance of fishable male red king crabs in the West Kamchatka shelf decreased to historical minimum. Already in the following two years the take-up of the red king crab TAC fell 12% short of the limit.
In the years to follow the red king crab populations have been recovering thanks to introduction of the low fishery pressure regime as well as biologically grounded measures proposed by the TINRO-centre research institute such as:
- bottom fishery ban for all species inhabiting the area important for crab reproduction;
- red king crab fishery ban from January to August all along the West Kamchatka shelf;
- a ban for processing red king crab from the technological group M including mostly undersized males;
- decreased number of crabbers operating in the area.
The positive stock abundance development has given the grounds to increase the red king crab TACs in the both subareas of the shelf and allocate a quota for its commercial fishery.
In the meantime, according to the statistics on Russian red king crab export to the markets of Japan and USA, the actual Russian harvest of red king crab considerably exceeds the officially reported harvest.
It must be noted that on the Japanese market the Russian king crab includes two species, red and blue king crabs.