Alaska cancels snow crab season due to population decline | Alaska
Alaska officials have canceled the upcoming snow crab season, due to population declines in the Bering Sea.
The fall harvest of Bristol Bay red king crab will not take place. The winter harvest of small snow crabs was also canceled for the first time.
The causes of the population crash are being researched, but likely include increased predation and stress from warmer waters, which the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says ), could have encouraged the crabs to move away from the coast.
“In the Bering Sea, walleye pollock, snow crab, and Pacific halibut have generally moved away from the coast since the early 1980s…They have also moved north by an average 19 miles,” the federal agency said.
The Alaskan closures reflect conservation concerns for the two crab species following dismal summer population counts. The decisions to halt the harvests came after days of talks between biologists and senior Alaska state officials, who had to contend with demands from crabbers that at least small catches be allowed.
“These are truly unprecedented and troubling times for Alaska’s iconic crab fisheries and for the fishers and communities that depend on it,” said Jamie Goen, executive director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, a trade association.
“Second- and third-generation crab fishing families will shut down due to the lack of meaningful protections from policymakers to help crab stocks recover.”
The Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) released a statement saying, “Management of Bering Sea snow crab must now focus on conservation and recovery given stock conditions.
“With input from the crab industry, ADF&G will continue to assess rebuilding options, including the potential for sustainable fishing during periods of low abundance. This will allow ADF&G to work on issues related to state and federal co-management, observer coverage, discard mortality, and fishery sustainability.
Bering Sea crab populations have now declined after a 2019 warming that scrambled the wider marine ecosystem. Last year’s snow crab harvest of 5.6 million pounds was the lowest in over 40 years.
Within the limits of a federal management plan, Alaska determines the number of crabs caught each year.
A scientific snow crab population model reviewed by the Federal North Pacific Fisheries Management Council last week indicated there may be enough this year for a small harvest. But Ben Daly, coordinator of fish and game research in Alaska, said the model struggled to account for dramatic population declines after the 2019 warming, and state officials feared that is not correct.
“We have extreme conservation concerns about the population. We have serious doubts about the model,” Daly told The Associated Press.
The fall red king crab harvest has been canceled for a second consecutive year due to low numbers of mature female crabs, which is an indicator of the general health of a stock in long-term decline. The survey must find at least 8.4 million mature females to allow a harvest. The 2022 survey, while showing improvement from 2021, still fell below that level, according to Daly.
Fisheries that incidentally catch Bristol Bay king crab and snow crab will continue without further restrictions.
The Department of Fish and Game also announced that a small Bering Sea crab harvest of more than 2 million pounds of tanner crab would open on Saturday.