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Increase of Tanner Crabs in Hokkaido a Mixed Blessing For Locals

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Fishermen are seen removing tanner crabs caught in fishing nets in Samani, Hokkaido.

A large number of tanner crabs along the Pacific coast to the west of Hokkaido’s Cape Erimo have become a mixed blessing for locals.

The crabs, smaller in size and lower in market value than snow crabs, have caused trouble to fishery workers by biting through flounder nets. However, they have become popular with consumers due to their lower prices.

“They are annoying. They shouldn’t have been caught,” Shuji Kikuchi, 69, said with a sigh as he returned to port after fishing for flounder early morning of June 12. He found tanner crabs caught in the gill nets. Kikuchi, along with two family members, removed the crabs by hand. The nets had been chewed up by the creatures.

“Nets fall apart after being used for three times,” said Kikuchi, who is a member of the Hidaka central fishing cooperative in Urakawa, Hokkaido.

Flounder stocks have declined as a result of the tanner crabs, as the costs of replacing or fixing the fishing nets have soared. Gillnet fishing is carried out year-round, and local officials are worried that the situation could lead to losses totaling hundreds of millions of yen.

It was only since the beginning of this year that a large amount of tanner crabs were noticed. Some fishery workers believe the increase is due to the decline in the number of octopuses, their natural enemy, but the Hokkaido Research Organization’s Mariculture Fisheries Research Institute said the causal relationship is not clear.

In 1986, a large outbreak of tanner crabs was found off the coast of Tomakomai, Hokkaido, and it took two to three years for the infestation to subside.

The fisheries cooperative in Erimo, southeast of the Hidaka cooperative, have sold the crabs at a direct sales store. Tanner crabs have a similar taste to snow crabs, and all 5,800 in stock sold out.

The Hidaka cooperative also have obtained special permission from the Hokkaido prefectural government to catch tanner crabs. On June 12, four vessels returned with a total catch of about 2 tons, half of which were sold at auction.

“We are starting to see some positive signs,” a Hidaka cooperative official said.