Nearly 1 Billion Alaskan Snow Crabs Disappear, Prompting Cancelation of Crab Season

by Lauren Boisvert
(Photo by Melinda Podor/Getty Images)

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has canceled the winter snow crab season for the first time in the state’s history, citing an unusual disappearance of nearly 1 billion snow crabs from the Bering Sea. The American seafood industry will definitely suffer from this strange occurrence, but scientists are more concerned with how this will affect the ecosystem in the Arctic. Additionally, this comes after the king crab season was canceled in Alaska as well.

Over the past two years, nearly 1 billion snow crabs have mysteriously disappeared, leading to a 90% drop in population. There’s no real answer to the question at the moment, only speculation from experts and crab fishers alike. Ben Daly is a researcher with ADF&G, which monitors Alaska’s fisheries that produce about 60% of America’s seafood. He spoke with CBS News about the strange disappearance and his theories behind it.

“Disease is one possibility,” said Daly. Climate change is another possibility. The NOAA reports that Alaska is warming at the fastest rate in the country, losing billions of tons of ice annually. The ice is essential to species like snow crabs, which thrive in cold waters.

“Environmental conditions are changing rapidly,” Daly continued. “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.”

Alaskan Snow Crabs Mysteriously Disappear: Could Climate Change or Disease Be To Blame?

Gabriel Prout, who runs a fishing business out of Kodiak Island that relies heavily on snow crab, had some questions. “Did they run up north to get that colder water?” Prout asked CBS News. “Did they completely cross the border; did they walk off the continental shelf on the edge there, over the Bering Sea?”

That’s what scientists and researchers are trying to figure out. As Daly posited, it could be disease, or it could be climate change. One thing is for sure: the snow crab population in the Bering Sea has definitely been rocked to its core.

Prout believes that there should be government relief programs for fishermen when something like this happens. It’s in a similar vein to aid for farmers who lose crops or communities that experience natural disasters. There is the Fisherman’s Contingency Fund, but that’s only for property or economic loss due to oil spills or gas obstructions. It doesn’t cover mysterious population decline.

CBS News asked Prout what he believes fishermen in this situation can do at the moment to preserve their livelihoods, he responded, “Hope and pray. I guess that’s the best way to say it.”

Right now, there is no definitive answer as to why the snow crabs disappeared. We only know for sure that this winter’s snow crab season is canceled. We’ll have to wait and see what happens next season.