In the 2022 fishing season, the snow crab fishermen are allowed out Alaska do not leak for the first time. As the US state fisheries department and the North Pacific Fisheries Council announced a few days ago, the population of crustaceans in the Bering Sea has shrunk so drastically that the fleet of about 60 ships will not be able to catch a catch this fall.
According to initial estimates, the number of snow crabs fell from around eight billion to one billion between 2018 and 2021.
Population down 40 percent
According to the Alaska Fish and Game Administration (ADF&G), the crab population has shrunk by another 40 percent since last year. “The decline could be due to an illness,” ADF&G spokesman Ben Daly told the American broadcaster CBS. The biologist, who monitors living conditions in the fishing zone, also referred to climate change. Alaska is the American state where temperatures have risen the most in recent years. Billions of tons of ice are lost every year.
The snow crabs, which require temperatures of between zero and five degrees, depend on cold water for their survival. “Environmental conditions are changing rapidly,” said Daly. “We have been observing warming in the Bering Sea for several years. At the same time we see the reaction of a species adapted to cold. It is obvious that there is a connection.”
Hard times for shrimp fisheries
Like the king crab, the three-pound snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio) is one of Alaska’s most sought-after catches. In order to protect the population from overfishing, the fisheries authorities carry out annual stock estimates and set catch quotas.
According to records from the National Ocean and Atmosphere Administration, Alaskan shrimp fishermen pulled more than 17 million kilograms of the crustacean worth about $100 million from the water in 2020. “Alaska’s famous crab fishery, its fishermen and the communities that depend on it are going through worrying and trying times,” Jamie Goen, chief executive of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers organization, told The Fishing Daily.
Goen also recalled last year’s ban on fishing for king crabs, which has now also been extended. “Family of fishermen who are second- or third-generation crabs for a living are having to give up because decision-makers have failed to increase populations,” Goen said.
The Alaska Department of Fish & Game has promised to investigate the declining snow crab population. His spokesman Mark Stichert also told CNN that some young, small specimens of the species had been observed in the Bering Sea in recent months. In three or four years, the biologist said, the new generation of snow crabs could be mature enough to fuel population regrowth.