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 holding off on the winter harvest of snow crab, according to multiple reports.

The decision comes after stark 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. The population declined 83% from 2018 to 2022 as some small crab entered the population in 2022, according to the department's Division of Commercial Fisheries.

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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 probably 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 statement Monday.

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 about 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.”

The fall red king crab harvest was canceled for the second year because of the low number of mature female crabs, which can indicate of the health of the broader population.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Alaska snow, king crab harvests canceled as populations disappear