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Lights, camera, Yupiks

October 19th, 2012 | Jim Paulin Print this article   Email this article  

The Bristol Bay red king crab fishery opened Monday, with a larger quota, Hollywood on board again, and an increasing presence of Alaska Natives and Alaska-owned boats.

"We call it the Yupikest catch," said Morgen Crowe, executive director of the Coastal Villages Region Fund, the Community Development Quota group in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

CVRF has purchased three crabbers, the Bering Sea, Arctic Sea, and North Sea, and about a third of combined crewmembers are Yupik Eskimo deckhands, and while none are captains yet, that's only a matter of time and training, he said.

They earned between $50,000 and $80,000 in the last snow crab season, Crowe said.

While CDQ group benefits are open to all residents of the region, Crowe said that about 98 percent of the population of his region is Yupik. The CDQ program receives 10 percent of all Bering Sea commercial fishing quotas in the federally regulated fisheries, worth hundreds of millions of dollars for the groups.

Western Alaska isn't the only part of the state benefiting from the Alaskan ownership of boats that fish in Alaska. Crowe said the group's fleet will be increasingly homeported in Seward, in southcentral Alaska, a move that he said offended some in Seattle, the boats longtime homeport, complaining of economic displacement. CVRF also owns the factory trawler Northern Hawk and several longliners.

The 2012 Bristol Bay red king crab quota is 7,853,000 pounds in both the individual fishing quota and community development quota fisheries, an increase of 19,000 pounds from last year, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which manages the fishery, and reported 50 crab boats registered on Monday.

In other Bering Sea crab quotas announced this month by Fish and Game, the St. Matthew Island blue king crab quota is 1,630,000 pounds. The Bering Sea snow crab quota is 66,350,000 pounds, down substantially from last year when the opie quota was about 88,000,000 pounds. There will be no Tanner crab season in the Bering Sea because of low stocks.

Camera crews from the Deadliest Catch television show on the Discovery Channel are on board the fishing vessels Seabrooke, Time Bandit, Northwestern, Wizard, and a few others, according to spokeswoman Maggie Nye.

The Deadliest Catch is produced by Original Productions, and will have camera crew not only on boats, but also helicopters, with the help of the Coast Guard, in St. Paul and Cold Bay.

Coast Guard spokeswoman Sara Francis in Kodiak said the photographers will accompany rescue flights when space is available on the helicopters, a relationship that generates good advertising for the Coast Guard when viewed on national television.

The Coast Guard cutter Sherman will patrol the crab fishing grounds, she said.

In Unalaska, the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Detachment conducted about 40 fishing vessel safety inspections in the week prior to the fishery's opening, counting crab pots on board for compliance with loading limits specified in each boat's stability book, and inspecting survival gear, according to Lt. James Fothergill.

Crabbers overloaded with 700-pound pots have capsized in the past, though the Bering Sea crab fishery has not seen a major catastrophe since 2005 when the fishing vessel Big Valley sank with multiple loss of life. Stepped-up Coast Guard safety inspections and the rationalization program are credited with reducing the mortality of crab fishermen.

Jim Paulin can be reached at


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