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Alaska Crab Industry Takes Aim at Imports of Illegal Russian Crab

9/01/06

Seattle, Washington

From the Alaska Crab Coalition's Press Release
Alaska's Bering Sea crab industry is asking for a crackdown on marketing in the United States of Barents Sea king crab illegally harvested by Russian boats. The industry is also coordinating with international efforts aimed at the illegal harvesting operations.

King Crab

"It is clear that almost 30 million pounds of processed crab would not be available on the world market, were it not for illegal fishing in the Russian sector of the Barents Sea. We estimate the bulk of that comes into the United States," says Arni Thomson, Executive Director of the Alaska Crab Coalition. Thomson discussed the problem last month with fisheries and marketing officials in Norway, and took his findings to the United States Congress.

Russian fisheries officials estimate the poaching rate topped 44 million pounds of king crab in the past year - two times the legal catch quota. A similar illegal catch is also projected for 2007 and 2008. The Barents Sea, which is adjacent to Norway and Russia, is home to the world's biggest new crab boom. Both countries have been conducting a legal fishery there for less than five years. King crab was transplanted to the Barents Sea by Russians about 60 years ago. Today, the largely untapped resource is estimated at 12 million king crabs - and it is growing fast.

"The Russians' want cash and they want it fast, the crab is sold as quickly as it is produced, in huge quantities and at very low prices. To make matters worse, the Russian crab is widely marketed as Alaska king crab," Thomson says.

The Norwegian share of the king crab quota last year was 240,000 crabs, or about two million pounds, while the Russian quota was three million animals, or 22 million pounds. "We find no evidence of illegal Norwegian crab fishing," say Thomson.

There is no doubt that the illegal tonnage is displacing markets and driving down prices for Alaska's crab industry, says market analyst, John Sackton. "It is a serious problem. The U.S. king crab supply has increased by about 60%, due to the Barents Sea production. As a result, market prices could be 15% - 25% lower for the Bering Sea industry this year," Sackton predicts.

The Alaska Crab Coalition is working with U.S. lawmakers to put an end to the crab poaching problem. Importation of illegally harvested Russian crab is prohibited under the Lacey Act and violators face stiff penalties. Mislabeling the crab also may violate laws that apply to deceptive marketing practices.

"Consumers all across the country are waking up to the need to recognize and support sustainable fisheries and avoid products from countries that allow overfishing," says Steve Minor, chairman of the Pacific Northwest Crab Industry Advisory Committee and spokesman for the Central Bering Sea Fishermen's Association.

The Bering Sea industry is supporting plans by Norwegian and other European authorities to have all fish products go through customs clearance at approved ports, instead of being exported directly from the fishing grounds. The Alaska Crab Coalition is also recommending mandatory satellite tracking on Russian crab vessels, and development of a system of traceability of landings.

"It is time for the Bering Sea crab industry to join the international initiative to attack illegal fishing and deceptive marketing of Russian crab. It is also time for the industry to call upon our government to address imports of illegally caught, and often mislabeled, crab. We need to take these steps, if we are to pull ourselves out of the quagmire of depressed prices," the ACC's Thomson says.

Related Story:
Small crab legs in Juneau prompt Safeway recall

King crab crisis in Russia touches down in Juneau

Empire editorial: Hold the juvenile crabs

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