If you visit many buffets these days one of the big draws is crab….Dungeness, King, Snow, Blue and Stone….all you can eat for 19.95….but sadly like the Atlantic Cod the King and Snow crabs are getting scarce….
Where did the Alaskan king and snow crabs go? The tasty crustaceans have all but vanished from their usual haunts within safe range of Alaska’s crabbing fleet. Per the Washington Post,king crabs—by far the larger of the two species—have been in decline for years, but the industry was unprepared for the sudden collapse of the snow crab population. Commercial crabbers, including many small business owners, went deep into debt in anticipation of a great 2021 snow crab harvest. Those expectations were based on 2018–19 surveys showing record populations of juveniles; but when 2021 rolled around, the stock of mature snow crabs was down by some 90% compared to prior years.
The state sharply reduced the allowable snow crab harvest from 45 million to 5.5 million pounds, but fishers didn’t even get that much. Many now face bankruptcy or are looking for creative ways to make ends meet. Meanwhile, there was no 2021 season for king crabs, and the state will announce what’s in store for 2022 on Oct. 15. Per the Anchorage Daily News, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council is also developing a “snow crab rebuilding plan,” which it is on track to unveil in December. In any event, the outlook seems grim, not only for crabbers but also for dozens of remote, indigenous villages in western Alaska, where crab processing is the only economic game around.
The Bering Sea has experienced several straight years of above-average temperatures, and while scientists aren’t sure of the exact reasons for the mass crab die-off, temperature seems to be key. Higher temps could make crabs more vulnerable to parasites or predators like cod, which shy from frigid waters. In any case, the decline is dramatic in both scale and speed. Mike Litzow, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service lab in Kodiak, refers to it as the “borealization” of the Bering Sea, which, like the nearby boreal forests, is rapidly transforming due to climate change.
Climate change claims another victim….
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