Alaskan Snow Crab Season Closed: Experts Name ‘Key Culprit’ in Mass Die-Off

by Samantha Whidden
(Photo by Jean-Erick PASQUIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

As fishermen continue to voice their outrage about the cancelation of Alaskan snow crab season, experts weigh in about the “key culprit” in the crab species’ mass die-off. 

CBS News reports that an annual survey of the Bering Sea floor by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration estimated that the Alaskan Snow Crab’s total numbers fellow to around 1.9 billion in 2022. This is notably from 11.7 billion in 2018. Making it a reduction of 84%.

After the survey’s numbers were revealed, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced that the snow Alaskan crab season would remain closed for the 2022-2023 season. It was noted that efforts must go towards conversation and rebuilding. This is given the condition of the species’ stock.  

Although the Alaskan snow crab is found in both Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, they do not grow to fishable sizes in either location. Meanwhile, Erin Fedewa, a marine biologist with the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, spoke about why the numbers are vastly different due to the heatwaves in 2018 and 2019. “[The] cold watch habitat that they need was virtually absent,” she explained. “Which suggests that temperature is really the key culprit in the population decline.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also stated that Alaska is the fastest-warming state in the country. It has lost billions of tons of ice each other. Which is critical for crabs in order to survive. 

“Environmental conditions are changing rapidly,” Ben Daly, a researcher with ADF&G, further explained to CBS News. “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.”

Bitter Crab Disease & Climate Change May Also Be Culprits in the Decrease of the Alaskan Snow Crab Population 

Meanwhile, it was reported that studies are pointing to a high prevalence of Bitter Crab Disease. This disease is spreading more due to water temperatures heating up. “A working hypothesis right now is that the crabs starved,” Fedewa shared. “They couldn’t keep up with the metabolic demands.”

Young Alaskan snow crabs notably need low temperatures in order to hide from their major predator, the Pacific cod. Temperatures in regions where juveniles are located have jumped from 1.5 degrees Celsius in 2017 to 3.5 Celsius in 2018. Fedewa states that everything is really pointing to climate change as another culprit.

Jamie Goen, Executive Director Of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, also issued 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.”

Goen added that second and third-generation crab-fishing families will go out of business because of the season’s closure.