The Red King crab fishery in the Barents Sea started as an experimental fishery in 1994 with a quota of eleven thousand crabs in both the Norwegian and Russian zones. This quota increased during the 1990s to 100 thousand in 2001. In 2002, the Norwegian king crab fishery became a commercial fishery with vessel-quotas, while the Russians introduced a licensed commercial fishery in 2004.
The Norwegian management of king crab is now based on a White Paper adopted by the Norwegian Parliament in 2008. The Norwegian king crab fishery is regulated by quotas only in the eastern part of Finnmark - namely in an area east of 26°E adjacent to the Russian border. The regulation (quota) year in this fishery is from 1 August to 31 July, and the last years the Norwegian TAC of king crabs has been between 900 and 1200 tons of males and 50 tons of females. The minimum legal size is 130 mm carapace length, for both sexes.
In the area regulated by quotas, only small coastal fishing vessels can participate in the crab fishery. About 450 vessels below fifteen meters participated. A small part of the TAC is assigned to tourist companies in the regulated area.
It is a management target to keep the king crab stock at a minimum level outside the regulated area, since the crab is an introduced stock that could have an impact on the marine ecosystem. It is therefore an unregulated fishery of king crab outside the regulated area.
The Red King crab is a highly valuable product on the market, and the annual first-hand value of Norwegian landings has reached about NOK 120-150 millions.
By-catches of King crab in the coastal gillnet and longline fishery increased in the 1990s along with the stock. The crab ruins both gear and catches as it tangles into the nets and feeds on caught fish. This by-catch impels fishers to abandon historically important fishing grounds, especially in the coastal lumpfish fishery. Research is carried out to develop fishing gear that reduces by-catches of crab in gillnets.
Impact on the Barents Sea ecosystem
In 2002, the Institute of Marine Research launched a comprehensive research programme on ecosystem impacts of the red king crab. The programme focuses on issues such as spreading, effects on bottom fauna, associated parasites etc. These investigations are carried out in close co-operation with Russian scientists. They have shown that the crab feeds on a wide range of prey benthic animals, and affects which species and individual sizes those are dominant in the benthic fauna. There are also indications that the king crab may affect the lumpsucker recruitment by feeding on its egg-clutches.