Crab eaters and fishermen just took a major hit this week.
For the first time ever, Alaska has canceled the winter harvest of snow crab, while also stopping the fall harvest of Bristol Bay red king crab for the second year in a row, The Seattle Times reported on Monday evening. Officials concerned about conversation made the tough decision, which will affect about 60 vessels from Alaska, Washington and Oregon that employ six or seven people each.
“I am struggling for words. This is so unbelievable that this is happening,” Jamie Goen, the executive director of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, told the newspaper. “We have third-generation fishermen who are going to go out of business.”
As recently as 2016, the Bering Sea crab harvests grossed $280 million. But populations of both snow crab and red king crab have been declining, and this summer’s population surveys were particularly bleak. After a warming of the Bering Sea in 2019, the snow crab population, in particular, took a big hit— although researchers still aren’t sure about the exact causes for that decline.
A model circulated last week by the federal North Pacific Fishery Management Council showed that there may be enough snow crab for a small harvest this year, but Alaska officials were worried that the data may not have been accurate. Ben Daly, a research coordinator at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, told The Seattle Times that the model hadn’t accounted for the population decline that has occurred since the 2019 warming. That omission gave officials pause.
“Management of Bering Sea snow crab must now focus on conservation and rebuilding given the conditions of the stock,” the department said in a statement announcing the harvest cancellation.
The red king crab population, while perhaps slightly improved from last year, is still not at the size it needs to be to allow harvesting. The number of mature female crabs—which are not targeted in the harvest, but which serve as an indicator for larger population health—was below the 8.4 million needed to proceed.
While the no-harvesting announcement affects a sizable number of crabbers, they will be able to harvest more than 2 million pounds of tanner crab in the Bering Sea starting October 16.