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Alaska cancels king and snow crab seasons as warmer waters send populations plummeting

Climate change threatens a key part of the state’s economy.

Ecology: Rising temperatures reshape food webs

The collapsing crab populations can be traced to 2019, when record warm temperatures in the Bering Sea followed a season of drastically diminished sea ice. There was a substantially reduced “cold pool” in the region — a blob of water only just above freezing (less than 2 degrees Celsius, or around 36 degrees Fahrenheit) that rises about 100 feet from the sea floor.

Economics: Another blow to an industry in decline

And it’s not just the vessel crews at risk. In 2020, there were seven active processing plants for Alaskan crab, another part of the industry that has undergone a long-term decline; there were 19 active plants in 2006.

Overall, Alaska’s crab fisheries brought in $270 million in wholesale revenue in 2020; this year, that is bound to take a hit.

Policy: How the crab quota system works

Mature male snow crabs declined by 22 percent since 2021; mature females fell by 33 percent. The glimmer of hope here, though, is that the survey found substantial increases in immature, or juvenile, male and female snow crabs; these aren’t fit for harvest but could mean better years are ahead. For now, the Seattle Times reported that Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game decided that even a small harvest this year would put the overall population at risk. “Management of Bering Sea snow crab must now focus on conservation and rebuilding given the conditions of the stock,” the department said.

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