Environmentalists are concerned because the Alaskan snow crabs appear to have vanished without a trace. The extinction of Alaska’s snow crabs is most likely tied to climate change. Marine scientists and those working in the fishing business are concerned.
They’re worried that the sudden and unexpected decline in the price of this premium seafood item is a portent. This is a warning about how quickly a fishery might be wiped out in this new and turbulent environment.
Gabriel Prout and his brothers, Sterling and Ashlan were taken aback by the unexpected development. The number of harvests of Alaskan king crab, which is a kind of crab that is larger and more craggy and was the focus of the television show “Deadliest Catch,” has been gradually decreasing for over a decade.
But in 2018 and 2019, scientists got what seemed to be very good news. This was concerning Alaska’s snow crabs. Record quantities of juvenile snow crabs were cruising around the ocean floor. This promised a large haul for the following fishing season.
Together with his brothers, he purchased the 116-foot Silver Spray and became part owner by buying out their father’s partner. They harvested a massive quantity of crabs by taking out loans. Also, by purchasing the rights to do so for $4 million.
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Environmentalists are concerned because the Alaskan snow crabs appear to have vanished without a trace.
It was the year that a large number of younger people working in commercial fishing in the Bering Sea moved up. This is from deckhand positions to owner positions. Everyone was certain that the upcoming snow crab season of 2021 would be exceptionally productive.
After that, we couldn’t find them anywhere.
Despite prior findings that pointed to an optimistic outlook, scientists discovered that snow crab populations had dropped by 90%. The harvesting season began, and the total amount of food that could be legally taken was reduced. This is from 45 million pounds to 5.5 million pounds. No matter how hard they tried, commercial fishermen just couldn’t catch that many fish.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game put an end to all king crab harvesting in October 2021. This makes it the first time since the 1990s that the season has been completely shut down.
Prout described the experience as “a battle.” We were getting near to several empty pots as we pulled up. If we searched for many kilometers over the ocean below, we wouldn’t even be able to drag out one hundred crabs. We toiled tirelessly, but we were only able to catch a fraction of what we were authorized to catch.
King crabs may weigh up to 20 pounds each and have thick, spiny shells. These shells are difficult to shatter without the use of special instruments. Snow crabs have shells that are thinner and easier to shatter with your bare hands. Their weight ranges from two to four pounds.
The cost of snow crabs
The snow crab industry in Alaska is by far the most lucrative. This is despite the fact that snow crabs are still rather pricey (about $25 per pound in a typical year). They are often significantly more affordable than king crab. The white flesh of both is salty and delicious, and it may be pulled apart into long pieces.
If you go to Joe’s Stone Crab in Washington, District of Columbia, and place an order for those succulent and opulent crab legs, you will most certainly have palpitations. The price of one and a half pounds of king crab is $199.95. The king crab is broken open right in front of the customer while being served cold with drawn butter. However, that price tag is shocking to say the least.
In March, the United States government banned the import of Russian fish and seafood products. This is along with other consumer items such as vodka and diamonds. This is as part of its expanding sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. This creates an additional challenge for restaurateurs who are looking for new sources to make up for it.
That is, make up for the shortfall in Alaska’s supply.
The managing partner of Klaw, a trendy new restaurant in Miami, George Atterbury, has collaborated with Troika Seafood. This is a Norwegian seafood importer, to import live red king crab from Finnmark County, Norway. This is the county that is located the farthest north in Norway.
They arrived in Fort Lauderdale the next morning after being transported there overnight. It was transported by Norwegian Atlantic Airways. A QR code is used to keep track of each individual prehistoric-looking animal. That is, an animal that may have a leg span of up to five feet.
King crabs storage
According to Atterbury, “We store the live king crab in a separate facility within our restaurant. This is in tanks that are 2,000 gallons in capacity.” “The expenses are volatile. However, we are aware that we can only pass on a limited number of those changes to the client. This is because we are price-sensitive about what is considered to be appropriate.”
The failure of two of three major crab stocks in Alaska is more than a gastronomical annoyance for the one-percenters. There is a third stock, bairdi crab, also called tanner crab, which is doing great, but it is a considerably smaller industry.
According to Heather McCarty, a fishing consultant in Juneau, it is the main source of income for many of the 65 communities that make up the Western Alaska Community Development Quota Program.
This program allots a portion of the annual fish harvest of certain commercial species directly to coalitions of villages that have had limited economic opportunities due to geographic isolation and diminished access to sources of income. The Western Alaska Community Development Quota Program allocates a portion of the annual fish harvest.
The program was created to offer economic and social advantages to inhabitants of western Alaska. This is with the goal of reducing the prevalence of poverty in what are often remote villages of Indigenous people.
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The source of income
“I work in the Pribilof Islands for an Aleut village of 450 people who has a significant investment in the crab quota,” McCarty said. “It’s a competitive industry.” During the height of the snow crab harvesting season in February, Trident Seafoods’ factory on the island of St. Paul, which is considered to be one of the largest crab processing factories in the world, can have as many as 400 employees. This February was a rather calm month.
“The fish tax is the sole source of revenue for the whole town of St. Paul.” She told me that it accounts for 85 percent of the community’s earnings.” The previous year, they had some [financial] reserves, but things are not going to go well for them in the future.
The king crab population has been on the decline for quite some time, but the snow crab population, which had been doing very well, suffered a plunge that nobody anticipated. According to her, what occurred with snow crabs is an example of the type of fast shifts in resource availability that are becoming widespread beneath the sea as a result of the effects of climate change.
In certain instances, the sudden shifts are seen when there is a proliferation of species. She stated that the number of sockeye salmon that have returned to Bristol Bay is at an all-time high. “It would appear that these quick alterations are capable of bringing about significant repercussions.”
But I was wondering what became of those snow crabs.
Alaskan snow crabs’ disappearance is a mystery
Bob Foy, who is the scientific and research director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center, stated that “We don’t have data to precisely indicate what happened.”
“What we do know is that we experienced a severe heat wave in 2019, and we saw a significant number of fish and crab populations migrate into regions where they had not been traditionally. The fishing operation shifted its focus to the northwestern part of the ocean.”
But mobility alone doesn’t explain it. Crabs are benthic species, which means that they move about on the bottom of the ocean and are unable to migrate as swiftly as many other types of fish.
“There wasn’t much of a shift in the total number of crabs living on St. Lawrence Island,” which is located in the Bering Sea to the northwest of the Alaskan peninsula. Foy said that “what it says is that there was a major mortality event or they migrated into deeper water beyond our survey or into the Russian shelf,” but he sounded suspicious about that final scenario. “They moved into deeper water beyond our survey or into the Russian s helf,” he added.
Because of its enormity, it is impossible for all of the biomass to have shifted without us seeing it. We believe that there was a very significant mortality event, which indicates an extraordinary occurrence in the Bering Sea that we have never seen before.
He noted that the crabs, maybe as a result of an increased sensitivity to their ecology, are like the canary in the coal mine for both the climate and for individuals who make their living from crabbing.
Crabbers are currently waiting to learn if the state’s $200 million snow crab sector will be severely restricted for the 2022-2023 season, and on October 15, they will find out whether the king crab season will be closed totally for a second year.
According to Jamie Goen, executive director of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers trade group, the decline of the crab population is having the most significant impact on blue-collar employees and small family companies.
According to Goen, there is no equivalent of “crop insurance” for commercial fishermen, and even though the United States Department of Commerce is allocating nearly $132 million to Alaska in response to the state’s fishery disasters, it will take years for the aid to reach those who have been harmed by the situation.
And even if the reports of crab deaths are greatly exaggerated and the crustaceans have instead permanently migrated northward to colder waters, fishing further north in the Bering Sea is too dangerous for Alaskan owner-operator vessels.
This is in part because there are no Coast Guard services available there to respond to medical emergencies or assist with boat trouble. The Prout family has diversified their business by “tendering” cod and herring, which means they are effectively serving as a courier to take captured fish to canneries so that commercial fishers can continue fishing.
This allows the commercial fishers to continue fishing. They are transporting the catch of other fishermen as a means of paying back that $4 million debt.
The Way Forward
“To recuperate from a 90% loss, there aren’t a lot of choices,” Gabriel Prout stated over a satellite phone from aboard the Silver Spray as they traveled from Cordova to Kodiak to tender cod. The Silver Spray was on its way to Kodiak from Cordova.”
The market is in a terrible state at the moment. In order to satisfy their financial obligations, a number of individuals would sell their boats or their share of the quota. It’s amazing to see how well Dad is coping with everything, but he’s always been an upbeat and positive guy.
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