Alaska crabs rip conservation decision to cancel over $200 million harvest: ‘Unbelievable’

Alaskan crabbers are reacting after officials canceled the fall-winter snow crab season in the Bering Sea for the first time, in addition to the red king crab harvest in Bristol Bay.

According to a press release from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, an analysis of trawl survey results for the Bering Sea snow crab with the National Marine Fisheries Service found that the stock was estimated to be below the legal threshold to open a fishery.

“Therefore, the Bering Sea snow crab fishery will remain closed for the 2022/2023 season. ADF&G values ​​and carefully considers all input from crab industry stakeholders before making this decision. Understanding crab fishery closures have significant impacts on harvesters, industry and local communities, ADF&G must balance these impacts with the need for long-term conservation and sustainability of crab populations. Management of the Bering Sea snow crab must now focus on conservation and recovery given the state of the population,” it explained.

The department said efforts to advance understanding of crab population dynamics are underway and that it will evaluate options for recovery, including the potential for sustainable fishing during periods of low abundance.

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“I’m struggling for words. It’s so unbelievable that this is happening,” Jamie Goen, executive director of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, told The Associated Press.

In a statement posted to the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers Facebook, Goen said these are “unheard of and troubling times for Alaska’s iconic crab fishery and for the hardworking fishermen and communities that depend on them.”

Alaska fishing

King crab fishery in Alaska, in the Bering Sea. (Jean-Erick PASQUIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images/Getty Images)

“For the second year in a row, the red king crab fishery in Bristol Bay has closed. Along with that, the snow crab fishery in the Bering Sea has closed for the first time ever. Second and third generation crab fishing families will go out of business due to the lack of meaningful protection from decision makers to help crab stocks recover,” he said.

“The state’s decision to close the fishery really leaves us with the options of bankruptcy or somehow miraculously finding a way to make this work,” said 32-year-old Gabriel Prout, who runs a business with his family in Kodiak, to KTUU.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lists snow crabs as “significantly below target population levels” and a “recovery plan is being developed for the Alaska snow crab population.”

They are also overfished according to a 2021 stock assessment, but not subject to overfishing based on 2020 catch data.

Snow crab populations – an arctic species – declined following a warming of the Bering Sea in 2019, and last year’s harvest of 5.6 million was the smallest in more than 40 years.

Alaskan snow crabs

FILE – Dennis Kim of Pruitt’s Seafood sorts Alaska Snow Crabs at the Southwest Maine Avenue Fish Market in Washington. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images)

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Citing Alaska officials, CBS News reported that an estimated one billion crabs have disappeared in two years, with disease and changing environmental conditions and climate potential suspects.

While declining populations are a concern for conservationists, cancellations also greatly affect the industry, with The Seattle Times reporting that the 2016 Bering Sea crab harvest grossed $280 million.

NOAA Fisheries’ commercial fish landings database found that commercial landings of Alaskan snow crab totaled more than 36.6 million pounds and were valued at more than $101.7 million in 2020.

The closures came after days of discussions by officials and biologists who had to respond to the crabs’ pleas.

Crab boat

King crab fishery in Alaska, in the Bering Sea. (Jean-Erick PASQUIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images/Getty Images)

Alaska, within the bounds of a federal management plan, determines how many crabs are caught.

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“We have extreme conservation concerns about the population. We seriously question the model,” Ben Daly, a research coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, told the Associated Press.

The harvest of red king crab was canceled due to the low number of mature female crabs.

Fishing that incidentally catches king and snow crab in Bristol Bay will continue at this time without new restrictions.

The Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, and Gulf of Alaska produce approximately one-third or more of the total U.S. crab catch, and 10 crab species are caught in the Alaskan crab fishery.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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