Interview with a Bering Sea crabber: Mark Casto

Mark Casto has been fishing for crab in the Bering Sea for over 30 years and is the owner and captain of the F/V Pinnacle. The Alaska Ocean Acidification Network is working with crabbers to share information, learn from their observations, and work together to better understand and address ocean acidification.

Mark Casto holds a red king crab aboard the F/V Pinnacle.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your story – how did you get into crabbing and what inspires you to keep at it?

My name is Mark Casto and I’m a 2nd generation crab fishermen. I went to Alaska as a young child fishing with my father and loved it…..I was hooked! My father started coming to Alaska around 1962’ish I think. He started at a cannery in Cordova and then went to work on some boats. He bought his own boat soon after that and started Dungeness crab fishing on the Washington coast out of Westport where I grew up. In 1978, he and another fellow built the Westward Wind and started fishing in the Bering sea for king crab, Tanner crab, and later on opilio. I spent my summers in Alaska fishing in Norton Sound for red crab and St. Mathew for blue crab….. I graduated from high school in 1986.

Crew work aboard the F/V Pinnacle in the Bering Sea.

Q: What’s your crabbing season like – which species do you fish for and how long are you out?

A regular crab season starts early October leaving Seattle; fishing starts mid October lasting 1-3 weeks depending catch, amount to catch, weather, etc. From there we move into Bairdi (Tanner) for 10 days to 2 weeks again depending on weather, amount to catch, etc. We’re usually home for the holidays and back up after the new year. We fish opilio until late Feb or mid April – again, depending on weather, amount of catch, and how far we have to travel.

Q: As a crabber, what are your thoughts with respect to climate change and ocean acidification? How do they fit into the mix of other topics crabbers are concerned about or tracking?

I really don’t think ocean acidification is a topic most crabbers have been talking about. As we learn more about it and its effects, we will be talking about it more. Crabbers will talk about it if it’s brought up at meetings and written about in fishing publications.

Q: Are you seeing changes in the Bering Sea with respect to your crab stock? As a captain in the Bering Sea for 30 years, I’ve seen warm and cold water and weather cycles come and go. The weather cycles seem to be more extreme the last few years… colder cold cycles and warmer warm ones. The last few years we have had to travel farther north for opilio.

The F/V Pinnacle, a 137-ft crabbing vessel docks in Dutch Harbor.

Q: What do you think are some of the biggest gaps in our understanding of crab in the face of ocean change?

Some of the biggest gaps are the molting cycles, growth cycles, mating, and crab migration. At the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation we have been doing studies on these gaps in knowledge.

Q: What do you think are some of the strengths crabbers have in regard to being resilient and adapting in a changing world? 

Crabbers and fisherman in general are pretty fast at adapting to challenges that they face in the changing world – travel farther, fish deeper, use different equipment, etc. and if need be close a fishery to help it recover.

Q: And finally, what’s a memorable moment from your crabbing career?

My most memorable moment in my fishing career is celebrating my 30th wedding anniversary. It takes a special gal to be married to me or any fisherman in general!!!

Recent Crab & Climate Mini-Symposium: members of the Bering Sea crabbing industry met with researchers to discuss the latest science on ocean acidification and climate as it relates to crab in the region. Read more.

A note about the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation

Mark Casto is one of a few active fishermen who are also board members for the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation (BSFRF).  BSFRF is a non-profit research foundation formed in 2003 by the Bering Sea crab industry and its primary work has formed strong collaborations between scientists and industry stakeholders to help improve the science for managing crab.  BSFRF has focused substantial research into improvements for both Bering Sea crab surveys and crab assessments (the stock assessment models).  One of the more recent priorities for the Foundation is to connect insights from the fishing grounds into research planning for projects to improve understanding of how crab stocks may be responding to changes in the marine environment.  As crab research priorities come up in response to changes the fishermen may see first, it’s critical to get their input and insight.  As some of these important research topics narrow to more complex issue like ocean acidification, having information from Mark and others like him is very important.

Visit the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation.

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