Following the news that Alaska has canceled king and snow crab season due to population concerns, scientists are now weighing on what they think the key issue is.
While speaking to CNN, Benjamin Daly, a researcher with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, discussed the situation. “Snow crab is by far the most abundant of all the Bering Sea crab species that is caught commercially. So the shock and awe of many billions missing from the population is worth noting – and that includes all the females and babies.”
Mark Stichert, the groundfish and shellfish fisheries management coordinator with Alaska’s fish and game department, spoke about how more crabs were being fished out of the oceans than could be naturally replaced. “So there were more removals from the population than there were inputs.”
Stichert further revealed that between the surveys conducted in 2021 and 2022, mature male snow crabs declined by about 40%. He said there is an estimated 45 million pounds left in the entire Bering Sea. “It’s a scary number, just be clear,” he declared.
Scientists Say Calling Bering Sea Crab Population ‘Overfished’ Says Nothing About the Population’s Decrease
Scientists pointed out that calling the Bering Sea crab “overfished” doesn’t necessarily reveal the main cause of the population’s decrease.
Michael Litzow, the Kodiak Lab Director for NOAA Fishers, had some thoughts about the subject. “We call it overfishing because of the size level. But it wasn’t overfishing that caused the collapse, that much is clear.”
Litzow further pointed out that human-caused climate change is a significant factor in the crabs’ decreased population. He noted that the snow crabs specifically are cold-water species. They are found overwhelmingly in areas where water temperatures are below two degrees Celsius. However, as the ocean warms and sea ice disappears, the waters around Alaska have become “inhospitable” for the species.
“There have been a number of attribution studies that have looked at specific temperatures in the Bering Sea or Bering Sea ice cover in 2018,” Litzow explained. “And in those attribution studies, they’ve concluded that those temperatures and low-ice conditions in the Bering sea are a consequence of global warming.”
CNN pointed out that temperatures around the Arctic have warmed four times faster than the rest of the planet. Unfortunately, that means some setbacks when it comes to fishing. Ethan Nicholas, an assistant area management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, discussed the issue. “Closing the fisheries due to low abundance and continuing research are the primate efforts to restore the population’s at this point.”
Stichert added that there might be some optimism for the future. This is due to a few small juvenile snow crabs starting to appear in the system. However, crabs could take three to four years before they hit maturity.