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Tighter supplies of red king crab


The TACs for red king crab have been reduced both in Alaska and in Norway. Supplies may therefore be tighter in 2019, as will snow crab supplies. There is also uncertainty about supplies of Dungeness crab. Prices may rise.


The Alaska Department of Fish and Game set the TAC for the various king crab species for the 2018/19 season in October. The season for opilio crab opened on 15 October and the TAC was set at 12 620 tonnes, 47 percent more than in the previous season. For Bristol Bay red king crab, the TAC was lowered by 36 percent from 2 990 tonnes in the 2017/18 season to 1 904 tonnes in the 2018/19 season. The peak year for the king crab fishery in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands was 2012, when 46 720 tonnes of crab was landed.

Norway has been fishing king crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus) for many years now, and it appears that too much is being caught. Apparently, there has also been substantial illegal fishing. In 2017, the quota was set at 1 750 tonnes, and Norway exported 1 900 tonnes during that year. The Norwegian Ministry of Trade Industry and Fisheries announced a 20 percent cut in the king crab quota for 2019 to 1 400 tonnes of male crab and 100 tonnes of female crabs. Also, the minimum shell size has been increased to 130 millimetres.

The state for snow crab supplies is also bleaker. It is expected a 35–45 percent cut in the TAC for the largest Newfoundland fishing zone, 3L. In 2018, the overall TAC was reduced by 17 percent year-on-year, to 29 000 tonnes, with the 3L area at 18 800 tonnes. A 35 percent drop in 3L for 2019 would give a level of 12 200 tonnes and a 45 percent cut giving 10 400 tonnes. Even with a 47 percent increase in the TAC for the Alaskan snow crab fishery, global output in 2019 will likely be down to the lowest level since 2011.

The commercial Dungeness crab fishery in Washington, Oregon and northern California was delayed until late December/early January. The reason given by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife was that the meat yield was too low, and in northern California the fishery was delayed until 15 January due to high levels of domoic acid. According to regulations, meat yield has to be at least 23 percent for crab caught north of Cascade Head in Oregon, and more than 25 percent for crab caught south of this point. 

International trade

Global imports of all types of crabs declined slightly to 285 600 tonnes in the first nine months of 2018, from a total of 296 100 tonnes during the same period in 2017 (-3.5 percent). The largest importer was the United States of America, with 82 600 tonnes or 29 percent of the total. China was the second largest importer and accounted for 19 percent, followed by the Republic of Korea with 10.6 percent. 

Most of the US imports came from Canada, which exported 32 900 tonnes of crab to the United States of America (40 percent of the total). The Russian Federation exported 16 300 tonnes of crab to the United States of America during the review period.

Indonesia is the main supplier of blue swimming crab to the US market, but landings in Indonesia have been flat. In 2017, the United States of America imported a total of 26 300 tonnes. Indonesia shipped 46 percent of this volume, while China supplied 14 percent and the Philippines 12 percent. During the first nine months of 2018, the United States of America imported 20 200 tonnes of blue and red swimming crab, around 6.8 percent more than during the same period in 2017. Indonesia’s share of this volume declined slightly from 50.1 percent in 2017 to 44.1 percent in 2018.


Before Christmas, US importers of crab reported declining prices for pasteurized jumbo lump blue swimming crab (Portunus pelagicus). Normally, demand from the foodservice sector increases as the Christmas holiday approaches, while retail sales tend to decline a bit. Wholesalers reported in midDecember that the price was in the range of USD 25–26 per lb, which was roughly USD 1.00 below the price in November, and as much as USD 5.00 below the price in May. However, prices are expected to climb again during the first quarter of 2019.


In 2019, supplies of red king crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus) may be a little tighter than in 2018. The Alaska TAC in the Bering Sea and the Norwegian TAC in the Barents Sea have been cut. Supplies of opilio crab in 2019 are expected to increase. Thus, it is an uncertain outlook for prices, but price rises for red king crab should be anticipated.

For Dungeness crab the outlook is uncertain. The 2018/2019 season got off to a late start, and the fishery could easily be closed again if meat yields decline again. Falling supplies would lead to rising prices. Supplies of blue and red swimming crab are expected to stay at about the same levels as in 2018. Indonesia will continue to be the main supplier to the US market. Prices are expected to recover during the first quarter of 2019.

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