Billions of crabs disappear from the sea around Alaska

Billions of snow crabs, a species of crustacean known for its abundance in the Arctic region’s Bering Sea, simply disappeared from the waters around Alaska. For the first time, the fishing season for these animals had to be cancelled.

The Alaska Board of Fisheries and the North Pacific Fisheries Management Board announced last week that the snow crab population in the Bering Sea has dropped below the regulatory threshold for fishing to be released.

The real numbers behind this decision are alarming: the population of Alaskan crabs, as they are also known, has shrunk from about 8 billion in 2018 to 1 billion in 2021, according to Benjamin Daly, a researcher at the US Department of Fish and Game. Alaska.

“This crab species is by far the most abundant of all commercially caught Bering Sea crab species,” Daly told CNN. “So it’s worth noting the shock we got to find that billions of them were gone. And that includes all the females and the young.”

Bristol Bay red king crab fishing will also be suspended for the second year in a row, the agencies announced.

Officials cited overfishing as a justification for canceling seasons. Mark Stichert, coordinator of Bottom Fish and Shellfish Fisheries Management at the state Department of Fish and Game, said more crabs were being caught in the oceans than could naturally be replaced.

Between surveys conducted in 2021 and 2022, he said, mature male snow crabs have declined by about 40%, with about 45 million of them remaining across the entire Bering Sea. “It’s a scary number, just to be clear,” Stichert said.

But blaming “overfishing” alone – a technical definition that triggers conservation measures – is not the only cause of this collapse.

“We call this overfishing because of the extractive level,” Michael Litzow, director of the Kodiak laboratory at NOAA Fisheries, told CNN. “But it wasn’t overfishing that caused the collapse, that’s clear.”

ocean warming

Litzow says human-caused climate change is a significant factor in the crabs’ alarming disappearance.

Snow crabs are cold-water species, found predominantly in areas where the water temperature is below 2 degrees Celsius, says Litzow. As the oceans warm and the sea ice disappears, the ocean around Alaska is becoming inhospitable to the species.

Temperatures around the Arctic have warmed four times faster than the rest of the planet, the scientists reported. Climate change has triggered a rapid loss of sea ice in the Arctic region, particularly in Alaska’s Bering Sea, which in turn amplified global warming.

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