By Jim Carlton
Alaska's crabbers, depicted in a reality-TV show about the dangers they face, are confronting a threat from across the Bering Strait: Russian poachers driving down crab prices.
The world seafood market has been hit by a wave of crab caught illegally in Russian waters that helped lower prices for Alaska's catch by as much as 25% in 2012 from the prior year, according to estimates by Inter-Cooperative Exchange, an association of Bering Sea crab fishermen.
"It definitely has a large economic impact on us," said Leonard Herzog, part owner of the Ramblin' Rose, a boat featured last year on the reality series "Deadliest Catch." "It's a difficult, dangerous business, and the guys on the boat deserve to reap the reward for their efforts."
Unauthorized Russian supplies—all types of crabs harvested in violation of Russian law—rose 36% from 2011 to 2012, to 123.1 million pounds on the world market, estimates McDowell Group, an industry-research firm in Juneau, Alaska. That is more than Alaska's entire crab haul last year of 113 million pounds. Poaching can occur when pirates catch crab without a permit, or when legitimate fishermen exceed catch quotas.
Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agree that supplies of poached Russian crab increased in 2012, but say they don't have statistics. NOAA spokeswoman Connie Barclay said her agency estimates that illicit Russian crab has cost U.S. fishermen—many of them in Alaska—$560 million since 2000. More....