PacFish Predicts Limited Impact From Crab Season Closures

Challenges for the Alaska crab fleet will bring hardship for some of their suppliers - but not all

Published Mar 13, 2023 8:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

Seattle is the staging point for most of the Alaska crab fishing fleet, and successive fishery closures have been hard on local businesses that serve crabbers, like shipyards and chandlers. In 2021, the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery closed in 2021 after a decade of decline, and the snow crab season was canceled in 2022 due to a sudden collapse in population. No one yet knows the future for these lucrative fisheries. Meanwhile, wholesale prices for Dungeness crab have plummeted this year, reducing the income of the coastal boats that target this smaller but important fishery. 

"It's a trickle-down effect. It's hitting everybody, from the bait people to the shipyard people to the meat guys that've been supplying boats for years and years," crab boat owner Mark Casto told local King 5 News.

But all is not gloom and doom for Pacific Fishermen Shipyard, a longtime fixture of Ballard's Norwegian fishing community. A dozen of PacFish's peers and competitors have closed up over the decades - Tippet, Union Bay Fabrication, Fisherman’s Boat Shop, Marco Shipyard, Duwamish Shipyard, Marine Industries Northwest, Puglia/Fairhaven, J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding, Foss Shipyard, and Fishing Vessel Owners and Marine Ways, among others - but Pacific Fishermen, Inc. carries on. (In many cases, it acquired some of their machinery as well as their customer base.)

After all the changes in the market over the decades, the new crab season closures will not impede the Northwest ship repair business, PacFish predicts. 

"The [crab] fleet was already reduced from 290 to 70 vessels 18 years ago with the changeover from Olympic fishing to quota share rationalization," explained PacFish's Doug Dixon in a shareholder update. "The recent closure of two of the species seasons did not sideline the boats, as they have Bairdi and Golden crab to fish along with pot caught cod and summer salmon tending."

Meanwhile, federal fisheries relief funding related to the crab closures will give fishermen the means to pay for boat repair work, according to PacFish. Although these relief funds may take time to disburse, Seattle yards stand to benefit.