commercial crab fishing town

Vessels in the commercial crab fishing fleet out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska, prepare for the 2020 king crab season in mid-October. Fishermen planning to head to sea for the upcoming pot cod and opilio crab openers are encouraged to contact the Coast Guard to schedule safety compliance exams. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Holly Hugunin

Climate Change Decimates Alaska Snow Crab Fishery

John Konrad
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October 17, 2022

by John Konrad (gCaptain) The Alaska Department of Fish and Game said this week that it had canceled the winter snow crab season in the Bering Sea for the first time ever. Authorities estimate that 90 percent of the population has been lost.

Biologists say that the warming of the waters of the Bering Sea in recent years could be a factor in the decline of the snow crab population and the current number of crabs is below the threshold for opening the fishery.

This year’s season, which typically opens on Oct. 15, will be canceled.

Miranda Westphal, a biologist with the Alaska’s fish and game department, said on Friday that the department was investigating why the crab population was declining.

“From 2018 to 2021, we lost about 90 percent of these animals,” Westphal said. “Between 2018 and 2019, the Bering Sea was extremely warm and the snow crab population kind of huddled together in the coolest water they could find. They probably starved to death and there was not enough food”

Alaska is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. It is also one of the most vulnerable to climate change. The state is warming twice as fast as the rest of the country, and its effects are already being felt. The state’s permafrost is thawing, which is causing widespread damage to infrastructure and homes. Coastal erosion is eating away at villages and towns. And the state’s iconic wildlife is being affected as well. Commercial fishermen, who use infastructure to move supplies and get fish to market, are among the hardest hit.

Many Alaska crab fishermen operate as small businesses. They have high levels of expenses and suffer from high levels of inflation. Inflation can help increase the value of their catch, but only if they can load their wells with fresh crabs. This is becoming increasingly difficult.

“We are getting hit from all sides,” one commercial crab fisherman told gCaptain. “Even when we can go out the crabs are moving to new places so they’re harder to find.”

Jamie Goen, executive director of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, a trade group, said in a statement, “These are truly unprecedented and troubling times for Alaska’s iconic crab fisheries and for the hard-working fishermen and communities that depend on them.”

He predicted that crab-fishing families would go out of business.

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