Alaska snow crab season canceled as authorities investigate disappearance of 1 billion crabs

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has canceled the Bering Sea snow crab winter season for the first time in state history because there aren’t enough of them.

This is a major blow to the US marine industry. Scientists are concerned about how the sudden population decline will affect the health of the Arctic ecosystem. Government officials say about a billion crabs have mysteriously disappeared in the past two years. That’s a 90% drop in their population.

“Were they moving north to get that colder water?” wondered Gabriel Prout, whose fishing business on Kodiak Island is heavily dependent on the snow crab species. “Have they completely crossed the line? Did they come off the continental shelf at the edge over there over the Bering Sea?’

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ADF&G researcher Ben Daly investigates where the crabs have gone. It examines the health of the state’s fisheries, which provide 60 percent of the nation’s seafood.

“Illness is one of the possibilities”

He also brings up global warming. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says Alaska is the fastest warming state. Every year, Alaska loses billions of tons of ice, which is bad for crabs, which need cold water to live.

“Environmental conditions are changing rapidly,” Daley said. “We’ve seen warm conditions in the Bering Sea over the last few years and we’re seeing a response in a cold-adapted species, so it’s pretty obvious that’s related. It is a canary in a coal mine for other species that need cold water.

Prout said there should be a program to help fishermen, just as there are programs to help farmers whose crops fail or communities that are affected by hurricanes or floods.

When asked what fishermen whose lives depend on the ocean can do in this situation, Prout replied: “Hope and pray. I guess that’s the best way to put it.

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