A little over a week ago, the Alaska Department of Game and Fish made a shocking announcement.
Due to an unprecedented population drop of snow crabs in the Bering Sea, winter season for the highly desirable catch was cancelled for the first time ever.
Bristol Bay red crab season was also cancelled for the second consecutive year.
Miranda Westphal, a biologist for ADGF, told the NY Times
“From 2018 to 2021, we lost about 90 percent of these animals…
She went on to say while it can’t be confirmed, their belief is this was due to “extremely warm” water temperatures over the time period, meaning the crabs would huddle together in the coolest water they could find. This limited their habitat size, therefore their available resources.
The warmer water temperatures also increase the crabs’ metabolisms, meaning they would require more food from the limited space available.
“They probably starved to death when there was not enough food.”
The Bering Sea snow crab population in 2018 was estimated to be 8 billion. That number now sits at around 1 billion.
There will certainly be 2nd, 3rd, and 4th order consequences for a decision of this magnitude.
Of course, it was done to preserve and eventually rebuild the population, but that doesn’t mean there’s no further issues.
The immediate concern is for the fishers who rely on snow crabs to feed their family and keep multi-generation businesses up and running.
Joshua Songstad, owner of F/V Handler, a business directly affected by this decision, told the Washington Examiner”
“This decision just destroyed a fishing business of over 50 years and the crew that have a combined 10 years invested in it… our crew of six has a combined 16 children to feed.
No fishing model accounts for that.”
Andy Hillstrand of F/V Time Bandit, showcased on Deadliest Catch, added that layoffs would be inevitable.
“We’re going to have to let people go because there’s no work and we’ve lost the ability to make money for the upkeep of the vessel.
Out of the 60-vessel crab fleet remaining since we consolidated years ago, we could lose up to half or more with this decision.”
My heart absolutely goes out to those fishers that may be out of work due to this situation.
Beyond the direct impact felt by fishers, many industries down the supply chain will feel the blow.
Companies involved with shipping, storing, distributing, reselling, cooking and serving the crabs will certainly take a hit.
Lower supply means higher pricing, so while Alaska isn’t the only place to get these crabs from, prices may rise quite quickly. Higher prices could mean slower restaurants, which means less tips for servers, which is only one example of how these consequences continue running down the chain.
A very complex, messy situation no doubt, where there doesn’t appear to be a clear solution in which everyone would happy. No doubt steps steps need to be taken to maintain and rebuild the very population the industries were built on, but we can’t hang these people caught in the crossfire out to dry.
Hoping the experts can figure this one out and everyone involved can get out with limited damage.