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Why Did Alaska Cancel Snow Crab Season?

Why Did Alaska Cancel Snow Crab Season?

Science
HOMER, Alaska–From a hillside in a residental Homer neighborhood. It’s easy to see the different climate zones present around the small Alaska town. In this May 31 photo, the town is green with life. While the mountains across Kachemak bay are still covered with snow and ice. USS Lake Champlain (CG-57) is in the bay between the two zones. Tied to a pier at the end of Homer Spit.

Everyone is talking about the closure of the Alaska snow crab season this year.

Fisheries biologists in Alaska estimate that 90% (about 1 billion) of the snow crab in the Bering Sea have “disappeared” over the past 5 years. During that time the Bering Sea has been significantly warmer than normal, stressing the crab which require very cold water to survive.

During the peak of the king crab industry, in 1981, Alaskan fisheries produced up to 200,000,000 pounds of crab. However, by 1983, Alaskan fisheries witnessed a freefall in numbers. Moreover, a crab loss by up to 90% in some places.

The Tanner Snow Crab, en:Chionoecetes bairdi. Taken from the NOAA.

In addition to the ecological problem, the closure of the crab season will cause significant economic hardship to the countless people whose income is directly or indirectly dependent on the fishery.

Crab boats moored in Dutch Harbor, Alaska
According to CBS News:

“An estimated one billion crabs have mysteriously disappeared in two years, state officials said. It marks a 90% drop in their population.”

“In a major blow to America’s seafood industry, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has, for the first time in state history, canceled the winter snow crab season in the Bering Sea due to their falling numbers. While restaurant menus will suffer, scientists worry what the sudden population plunge means for the health of the Arctic ecosystem.”

An NMFS Alaskan fisheries observer holding a red king crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus)

Trawlers are chasing cod into colder water up north and smoking all the crab on the seafloor. As a result, the crushed crab doesn’t come up in the trawl net when you tow as hard as they do. So, observers never see it and document the bycatch.

Some researchers just point to a natural northern migration.

There’s still so much that we don’t know about our waters, animal behavior. Furthermore, how wildlife will become affected by issues like climate change. However, we can see how it’s affecting fishing communities, seafood restaurants, and all of those along the supply chain in our greater food system. 

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Boat fishing for crabs in the Bering Sea.

Why Did Alaska Cancel Snow Crab Season?