Officials in Alaska have cancelled the autumn Bristol Bay red king crab harvest as well as the winter snow crab harvest. After a summer population survey showed dismal stocks, the difficult decision to cancel was announced by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Biologists and senior agency officials alike agreed that this is the best decision amid deep conservation concerns.
“Management of Bering Sea snow crab must now focus on conservation and rebuilding given the condition of the stock,” the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said in a statement. “Efforts to advance our science and understanding of crab population dynamics are underway. With crab industry input, ADF&G will continue to evaluate options for rebuilding, including potential for sustainably fishing during periods of low abundance.”
Snow crabs are a cold-water species, usually found in areas where water temperatures are below 2 degrees Celsius. The snow crab population collapse is still being investigated; however, scientists believe the 2019 warming of the Bering Sea has caused a change in the crabs’ metabolism, which is leading to starvation. Warmer waters may also be advantageous to certain predators, further decreasing crab stocks. Last year’s harvest was the smallest in 40 years, with a 5.6 million pound harvest.
Scientists at NOAA explain that as warming global temperatures melt sea ice, there are fewer bright surfaces, which reflect sunlight back into the atmosphere. Darker surfaces, like the surface of the ocean, absorb heat. This heat absorption gradually raises the temperature of the ocean and delays the ice growth that occurs in fall and winter seasons. In turn, the ice that has accumulated melts faster in the spring.
Scientists report that temperatures around the Arctic have warmed about four times faster than the rest of the planet. This warming has caused sea ice to melt at an alarming rate in the Arctic region.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported that the closure of the fisheries due to low stocks and continued research are paramount in the effort to restore stocks.