Recently, Alaska officials cancelled several crab harvests in an unprecedented conservation effort which sent shock waves through the region’s crabbing industry. After canceling the fall Bristol Bay red king crab harvest, the authorities have now announced – for the first time on record – that they will be holding off the winter harvest of snow crab too.
This major decision comes after massive crab populations declines over the past few years. For instance, data from a recent eastern Bering Sea survey conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has shown a 92 percent decline in overall snow crab abundance between 2018 and 2021. Although some small crab entered the population in 2022, lowering this number to 83 percent, the situation continues to be dire, calling for urgent action such as that taken by the Alaska officials.
According to experts, snow crab populations dropped substantially after a 2019 Bering Sea warming, and their numbers continue to decrease due to environmental stressors such as warmer waters and increased threats from predators. “Management of Bering Sea snow crab must now focus on conservation and rebuilding given the condition of the stock,” the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) wrote in a recent statement.
“Efforts to advance our science and understanding of crab population dynamics are underway. With crab industry input, ADF&G will continue to evaluate options for rebuilding, including potential for sustainably fishing during periods of low abundance.”
Since Bering Sea crab harvests grossed $280 million by 2016, and a fleet of about 60 vessels from Alaska, Washington, and Oregon typically pursue the crab during the winter season, the cancelling of this year’s hunt can significantly affect a large number of people who depend on these activities for their subsistence.
“It’s going to be life-changing, if not career-ending, for people. A lot of these guys with families and kids, there’s no option other than getting out. That’s where the hammer is going to fall – on the crew,” warned Dean Gribble Sr., a crab boat captain who has fished for snow crab since the late 1970s.
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