In a major blow to America’s seafood industry, Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game has cancelled the winter snow crab season in the Bering Sea due to falling numbers.
While restaurant menus will suffer, the greatest impact will be to the economy to the tune of $200 million.
An estimated 1 billion crabs mysteriously disappeared in just two years. Thats a 90% plunge.
“Where have the snow crab gone? Did they run up north to get that colder water? Did they completely cross the border? Did they walk off the continental shelf on the edge there over the bering sea?” asks Gabriel Prout, a crab boat owner.
“The first reaction was, is this real? You know, we looked at it and it was almost a flat line,” said Ben Daly, a researcher with the the fish and game department. It’s his job to monitor the health of the state’s fisheries which produce 60% of the nation’s fish.
His team is now investigating where the crabs have gone.
“We’re trying to look for causes. Disease is one possibility,” Daly said.
Daly also points to climate change. Alaska is the fastest warming state in the country and is losing billions of tons of ice each year — critical for crabs that need cold water to survive.
“Environmental conditions are changing rapidly. We’ve seen warm conditions in the Bering Sea the last couple of years and we’re seeing a response in a cold adapted species so it’s pretty obvious this is connected,” said Daly.
Daly agrees that this species is the ‘canary in the coal mine for other species that need cold water.”
“We need a rapid financial relief program to get us through disasters like this, much like farmers get during crop failures or communities get soon after a hurricane or flood,” said Prout.