The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has canceled the winter snow crab season for the first time in history. The cause? More than a billion of the animals have vanished over the course of the last two years, amounting to a 90 percent wipeout of the species from the Bering Sea.
Alaska’s fisheries are responsible for production of 60 percent of America’s seafood, an Oct. 13 report by CBS on the topic stated while in the process of describing multiple scientists and experts who were somehow at a totally baffled loss as to how the circumstance has transpired.
Gabriel Prout, a local fishery business owner, asked the rational questions in comments given to the outlet, “Did they [snow crab] run up north to get that colder water?”
“Did they completely cross the border? Did they walk off the continental shelf on the edge there, over the Bering Sea?”
Prout’s comments have a point. One expert interviewed by CBS, Ben Daly, described as “a researcher” with the Department drolly stated, “Disease is one possibility.”
Daly, of course, pinned the proverbial tail on the climate change donkey, “Environmental conditions are changing rapidly,” he stated.
“We’ve seen warm conditions in the Bering Sea the last couple of years, and we’re seeing a response in a cold adapted species, so it’s pretty obvious this is connected. It is a canary in a coal mine for other species that need cold water,” Daly added.
And of course, when it comes to solutions, nobody seems to have any. Prout told the outlet fisherman can, at least, “Hope and pray. I guess that’s the best way to say it.”
Prout’s frustration is arguably warranted. The snow crab business was a lucrative one. Reporting by Fox13 stated that the Bering Sea 2016 campaign grossed $280 million.
Fortunately for commercial fishermen, 2021 was the highest grossing snow crab harvest recorded in Alaska since at least 1992, according to data from NOAA. Fleets took 44 million pounds of crab from the entire state’s seas at an aggregate dollar amount of $219 million.
The next highest-grossing year was 1994, which grossed $199 million, but on 147 million pounds harvested.
Both Fox and CBS attempt to claim that a 2019 warming event in the Bering Sea is the likely cause of the depopulation.
The event they refer to is denoted on NOAA’s Arctic Program website as an 82 percent retreat of areal ice cover stemming from a chain of five warm cyclones that entered the locale, producing record breaking warm temperatures.
Yet to the contrary, NOAA data shows that the quantity of pounds harvested fell dramatically starting not in 2019, but in 2016 to 39.5 million.
2017 fell again to 21.3 million, and 2018 tumbled once again to 18.8 million.
By 2019 and 2020 harvest size recovered to 27.2 and 33.6 million pounds respectively.
In 2015, fishermen took almost 61 million pounds of snow crab from Alaskan waters.
A July article by National Fisherman on both snow and red king crab explains that harvest quantity is limited by authorities, “The Total Allowable Catch (TAC) is based upon data gleaned from three phases of trawl surveys conducted in late summer.”
They explained further on the red king quota, “In the 2008-2009 season the TAC was set at around 20 million pounds. In the last decade the TAC’s have risen from 7.8 million pounds in the 2011-2012 season to 9.97 million pounds in the 2015-2016 season, then declined.”
National Fisherman posited that the snow crab disaster was attributed to the fact that “crab had marched westward, into deeper water, suggesting they were looking for colder subsurface sea temperatures.”
Additionally, trawl data showed that the majority of the area’s pacific cod, a natural snow crab predator, had migrated to the northern Bering Sea, significant because the cod usually swim in the colder portion of the southern Bering Sea, which keeps two species separated.
The problem in the area’s oceans is not entirely news, however. Anchorage Daily News stated in a report on the snow crab season cancellation that the red king crab harvest was also canceled, this time for the second year in a row.
“The survey needs to find at least 8.4 million mature females to greenlight a harvest, and the 2022 survey, though it showed a light improvement from 2021, still fell below that level,” the outlet stated.