Kodiak fishermen continue to stand down amid processor price dispute

a Kodiak crab boat
The Kodiak commercial fishing fleet has been preparing for the region’s largest tanner crab season since 1986. (Brian Venua/KMXT)

Fishermen were supposed to be donning their gear Sunday morning for the opening of Kodiak’s largest tanner crab fishery since 1986. But the boat harbor was almost full – dozens of ships were crammed with empty crab pots. At the downtown café, right near the docks, fishermen lined up for free coffee instead.

Frank Miles is the owner of the Sumner Strait fishing vessel – it’s a 58-foot border seine – and has been fishing commercially for almost 50 years. His first tanner season around Kodiak was in the early ’80s when he was chopping bait for a local boat.

“I’ve made a very good living out of it,” he said. “I raised three kids in this town on the income from fishing and it was a beautiful thing.”

Boats with empty crab pots lie in Kodiak Harbor in St. Paul (Image: Brian Venua/KMXT)

Miles normally fishes for cod and longlines for halibut and black cod. He also makes salmon. He sat out the start of this cod season so he could go to Tanners instead. He didn’t think prices would be as high as last year’s record of more than $8 a pound.

“But I never in my wildest dreams thought we’d be offered $2.50, that’s a real slap in the face,” Miles said.

That’s what all the processors from Kodiak offered before the planned opening of the Tanner crab fishery.

Miles says he understands processors’ spending has gone up – but so has his. Fuel and bait costs have gone up, crab pots are more expensive to replace or repair, and he’s losing money by staying tied up. Miles said it cost $63,000 to insure his boat — one of two he owns — plus $15,000 in mooring fees for Sumner Strait alone.

Kodiak’s entire fleet sat Sunday at the season opener – and they don’t plan on fishing anytime soon. These include fishermen in Chignik and the South Peninsula.

“As far as we know, nobody is pulling any pots,” said Kevin Abena, the secretary and treasurer of the Kodiak Crab Alliance Cooperative, which represents about 120 permit holders in the fishery.

It’s a diverse group that includes 32-foot gillcatchers to 118-foot crabs.

He said they are still negotiating with the city’s canneries, but so far the best offers have come from processors in the Aleutian chain.

Kodiak, Chignik and the South Peninsula skipper and crew have been waiting for a better price before going fishing (Brian Venua/KMXT)

“We’re actively looking for offers right now and are working with processors in the west to formulate a plan to get all of these crabs west,” Abena said.

As of Monday, that decision wasn’t final — but it’s a serious option. Abena said the cooperative is currently in talks with Peter Pan in King Cove to process Kodiak crab.

Canneries in the west are currently offering nearly $4 a pound for Bering Sea Tanners. But Kodiak Tanner crabs are about an inch larger. That’s another sticking point for local fishermen, who say the crab around Kodiak is more valuable than what’s currently on the market.

Abena said both the community and fishermen from other parts of the state have come forward to express their support for the shutdown. At this point he says the earliest the fleet would go fishing was Wednesday 18th January.

“The amount we can win is clear to everyone, much bigger than what we are losing now if we go one day, two, three, four – a week – whatever it takes,” he said.

Fisherman Frank Miles said whenever they get a fair deal he’s ready.

“I can’t wait to go fishing man I think everyone’s ready,” he said. “I’ve never seen a fleet so ready.”

In the meantime, he and the others will continue to wait.

As of Monday morning, Kodiak’s processors were either unavailable by phone or had no comment.

Brian Venua contributed to this coverage.

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