After 80% population drop in 4 years, Alaska cancels snow crab season in unprecedented move

Alaska officials have canceled several crab harvests in a conservation effort that sent shock waves through the crabbing industry in the region. Officials canceled the fall Bristol Bay red king crab harvest and, for the first time on record, are also holding off on the winter harvest of snow crab, according to multiple reports.

The decision comes after stark recent population declines of the animals. Data from an NOAA eastern Bering Sea survey shows a 92% decline in overall snow crab abundance from 2018 to 2021, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game confirmed to USA TODAY. An 83% decline occurred from 2018 to 2022, as some small crab entered the population in 2022, according to the department’s Division of Commercial Fisheries.

Last year’s snow crab harvest was 5.6 million pounds, the smallest in over 40 years. Snow crab populations dropped after a 2019 Bering Sea warming, and the causes of the population crash are likely stresses from the warmer water and increased threats from predators. “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 Monday statement.

Bering Sea crab harvests as recently as 2016 grossed $280 million, according to the Seattle Times. A fleet of about 60 vessels from Alaska, Washington and Oregon typically pursue the crab, and each boat employs approximately six people. “It’s going to be life-changing, if not career-ending, for people,” Dean Gribble Sr., a crab boat captain who has fished for snow crab since the late 1970s, told NBC News. “A lot of these guys with families and kids, there’s no option other than getting out. That’s where the hammer is going to fall – on the crew.”