The Alaska Department of Fish and Game canceled the snow crab season earlier this week due to a catastrophic population decline. Alaska suffered a financial catastrophe as a result of the red king crab season being delayed for the second consecutive year. Alaska lost $3 million in tax income as a result of the choice. The suspension is anticipated to allow the crab supplies to increase once more.
Each season’s end sees stock evaluations done by commercial trawlers. However, no survey was conducted in 2020 as a result of COVID-19. Then, in 2021, the snow crab went through the biggest documented crash. One widely held theory claims that the drop was caused by water temperatures.
Many tiny snow crabs live in a frigid pool on the Bering seafloor in the summer. Due to warmer waters and less sea ice in recent years, these frigid pools have shrunk, sending crabs into the shallow waters.
The snow crab problem will have a big impact on Alaska, as well as on crew members who live in Washington and Oregon. Alaskan towns’ economies are shaped by crabs. 50% of Alaska’s annual budget was lost due to the reduced snow crab harvest and the end of the red king crab season, which cost $3 million in tax revenue.
It Happened First Time in History
Officials in Alaska have suspended the winter harvest of smaller snow crabs as well as the fall red king crab harvest from Bristol Bay.
The decision is a double blow to a fleet from Alaska, Washington, and Oregon that hunts Bering Sea crab in harvests that brought in $280 million in 2016, according to The Seattle Times. According to CBS News, the population of crabs has decreased by 90%, or by an estimated 1 billion crabs.
The closures are a result of depressing summer population assessments, which have raised worries for the conservation of both crab species. After days of deliberation and in the face of crabbers’ requests for at least limited fisheries, Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists and top agency officials decided to end the snow crab and fall king crab harvests.
“I’m at a loss for words. That this is actually happening is so shocking “As well as some crabbers going out of business, Jamie Goen, executive director of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, added.
Given the situation of the stock, management of Bering Sea snow crab must now prioritize conservation and rebuilding, according to a statement released by the agency on Monday.
Following the warming of the Bering Sea in 2019 that disrupted the larger marine ecology, snow crab populations decreased. The 5.6 million pound harvest of snow crabs last year was the smallest in more than 40 years.
Although the reasons for the snow crab population decline are still being investigated, they most likely involve elevated predator pressure and stresses brought on by warmer water.
The number of crabs caught is decided by Alaska, within the parameters of a federal management plan that establishes an acceptable biological catch.
The federal North Pacific Fishery Management Council looked at a scientific model of the snow crab population last week, and it suggested that there might have been enough this year for another small harvest. Ben Daly, a research coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the model had difficulty accounting for the sharp population reduction following the 2019 warmth, and state officials were concerned that it might not be reliable.
“Extreme population conservation problems are on our minds. We seriously question the model “said Daly.
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The lack of mature female crabs, a sign of the overall health of a population that has been declining for a while, led to the cancellation of the fall red king crab harvest for the second year in a row. According to Daly, despite showing improvement from 2021, the poll in 2022 still fell short of the required 8.4 million mature females to approve a harvest.
At this point, there won’t be any new limits on fishing that unintentionally catches Bristol Bay king and snow crab.
A small Bering Sea crab harvest of more than 2 million pounds of tanner crab will begin on October 16, according to a separate announcement made on Monday by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.