By Hal Bernton, Seattle Times staff reporter
“Alaska officials have canceled the fall Bristol Bay red king crab harvest, and in a first-ever move, also scuttled the winter harvest of smaller snow crab.
“The move is a double whammy to a fleet from Alaska, Washington and Oregon pursuing Bering Sea crab in harvests that as recently as 2016 grossed $280 million.
“I am struggling for words. This is so unbelievable that this is happening,” said Jamie Goen, executive director of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. “We have third-generation fishermen who are going to go out of business.”
“The closures reflect conservation concerns about both crab species in the aftermath of bleak summer populations surveys . The tough decisions to shut down the snow crab and fall king crab harvests came after days of discussions by Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists and senior agency officials who faced crabbers’ pleas for at least small fisheries.
Scientists are still researching the causes of the snow crab population collapse, which likely include increased predation by species as well as, stresses from the warmer water that caused crabs’ metabolisms to increase and could have led to starvation.
“Management of Bering Sea snow crab must now focus on conservation and rebuilding given the conditions of the stock,” the department said in a Monday statement announcing the snow crab cancellation.
“Snow crab populations collapsed in the aftermath of a 2019 Bering Sea warming that scrambled the broader marine ecosystem, and last year’s snow crab harvest of 5.6 million pounds was the smallest in more than 40 years.
“Scientists are still researching the causes of the snow crab population collapse, which likely include increased predation, as well as, stresses from the warmer water that caused crabs’ metabolisms to increase and could have led to starvation.
“Alaska, within the limits of a federal management plan that comes up with an allowable biological catch, determines how many crab are caught.
“The fall red king crab harvest was canceled for the second year in a row — a move that reflects the low number of mature female crab, which although not targeted in the harvest, are an indicator of the broader health of a stock that has been in long-term decline. The survey needs to find at least 8.4 million mature females to greenlight a harvest, and the 2022 survey, though it showed a light improvement from 2021, still fell below that level, according to Daly…”
NOAA survey of Bristol Bay red king and snow crab populations runs 196 pages.