The Alaska Department of Fish and Game just cancelled this year’s snow crab season in the Bering Sea for the first time ever.
It said that 90 percent of the snow crab population has been lost in the past few years, probably as a result of warmer waters and climate change. The current number of crabs, the department said, is below the threshold for opening the fishery. The annual season usually opens on Oct. 15.
The snow crab fleet consists of about 65 boats; some of them are in the Coast Guard’s picture of Dutch Harbor, above. The crabbers and other industry leaders were upset with the cancellation. Jamie Goen, executive director of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers trade group, said, “These are truly unprecedented and troubling times for Alaska’s iconic crab fisheries and the hard-working fishermen and communities that depend on them.” He predicted that some of them would have to go out of business.
Miranda Westphal, a biologist with the state’s Fish and Game Department, said it was investigating the rapid decline of the snow crab population. “From 2018 to 2021, we lost about 90 percent of these animals,” she said. “Between 2018 and 2019, the Bering Sea was extremely warm, and the snow crab population kind of huddled together in the coolest water they could find. They probably starved to death.”
Alaska is the most vulnerable of all states to climate change. In fact, it is warming twice as fast as the rest of the country. The permafrost is thawing, causing enormous damage to the infrastructure and buildings. Coastal erosion is hitting towns and villages. And now commercial fishermen are suffering.
Ms Westphal said that other factors, such as disease, could also explain the snow crab decline. “We don’t know and we are never going to actually know because the crabs are gone,” she said.
Snow crabs are the smallest species harvested in the Bering Sea. They have hard, rounded shells. A male shell can reach 6 inches in width; a female, 3 inches. Read more: