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Tanner Crab Enters Alaska Market

February 14, 2012

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A new kind of crab is entering the Alaskan market. Tanner crab, also known as bairdi crab, is familiar to the fishing community in Kodiak, but a recent effort by the Alaska Marine Conservation Council to introduce it directly to Alaskan customers is meeting with success.

There’s a lot of activity taking place on a recent evening at the Orso restaurant in Anchorage. Servers straighten tables and the kitchen is busy preparing a new ingredient: Tanner crab.
The chefs at Orso showed off their skills by serving this new ingredient in a variety of ways: chilled, stuffed into mushroom caps, and baked into little cheesy triangles with spinach. Tanner crab will be included in the specials for the next few days, so tonight’s crowd gets to test the new delicacies.
Upstairs, Theresa Peterson is setting up photos of fishermen in Kodiak. Peterson serves as Outreach Coordinator for the Kodiak branch of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, but she is also an active fisherwoman and longtime resident of Kodiak. She says tonight’s event is a celebration for the end of the Tanner Crab season, which is only one week long. But it’s also a handy way to tell people about the Catch of the Season program.
“It’s been a nice opportunity to connect the fishermen from the area with people from Anchorage.”
Modeled after community supported agricultural programs like Glacier Valley or Full Circle Farm, potential customers can purchase Tanner Crab directly from the fishermen in Kodiak in either 10 or 50 pound boxes. Peterson says this (is) also ties in to the Working Waterfronts program, which encourages more sustainable fishing methods and connects fishermen directly to potential customers. And Peterson is quick to point out that Tanner Crab is also pretty tasty.
“I find the taste to be a little bit sweeter than other bairdi crab and snow crab. The crab around Kodiak tend to be a little bit larger, so you get a little more bang for your buck when you’re cracking the crab.”
Peterson says the goal “is to provide an increased market opportunity for the fisherman and the Kodiak Island economy,” as well as “to get the word out to the restaurants and other people of just what people in Kodiak do.”
“Hopefully there will be an increased demand from consumers on the mainland to support their local fisherman by buying our local seafood.”
Charlie Peterson, Theresa’s son,  was raised working on his family’s fishing boat. He says the way the Tanner Crab season is regulated allows the Department of Fish and Game to keep the population from being overfished. Each of the 180 license holders are limited to only 20 crab pots, so smaller boats have even competition with larger boats.
“They’re only open for 8am-6pm, so it’s daylight hours, every boat is only allowed 20 pots, so it’s really even. We don’t’ have the same equipment as the big boats, so this evens it out.”
Advertising efforts for the Catch of the Season program have been limited to online efforts through email and social media, but word of mouth has been the most effective method. Packages of Tanner crab were sold to around 70 individual customers. But a few restaurants decided to buy-in this year, too. In addition to the Orso, both the Marx Brothers Cafe and Crush Wine Bistro, and the Mill Bay Coffee in Kodiak served Tanner crab this year. Peterson says the Catch of the Season program is very interested in expanding the program to include jig-caught pacific cod and rock fish.
“We’re hoping to bring more premium quality products that are being handled with the best practices by community based small-boat fisherman. So keep your eye out for some cod and rock fish down the line.”
Between individual customers and the wholesale purchases from restaurants, the Catch of the Season program was able to sell just over 1900 pounds of Tanner crab.

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