The US Department of Commerce is allocating nearly $132 million to Alaska for fishery disasters, to include the apparent “crab collapse”.

In 2021, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed the king crab season, and snow crab populations were down as well. The total allowable harvest was reduced from 45 million pounds to a mere 5 million. This was a completely unexpected development as scientists had observed record numbers of juvenile crabs the year before. They’d predicted the ‘21 season would be one for the record books, and it was, but not in the way they’d hoped. 

Where have all the crabs gone? 

No one actually knows, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Bob Foy, Director of Science and Research for the Alaska Fisheries Science Center has some ideas. He said, “The biomass of crabs up there at St. Lawrence Island [northwest of mainland Alaska in the Bering Sea] didn’t change much. What that suggests is there was a large mortality event or they moved into deeper water beyond our survey or into the Russian shelf. The magnitude of biomass could not all have moved without us detecting it. We believe we had a very large mortality event, which points to an extreme event that we have never seen before in the Bering Sea.”

If the crabs have only migrated permanently to colder, more northerly waters, it could still spell the end of Alaskan crabbing. Those waters are too dangerous to traverse with no Coast Guard services to respond to emergencies. As it is, crabbers are waiting on the verdict to be issued in October if this year’s crab season will even open. 

Those in the food industry are still looking to meet demand even as the animals are disappearing from our waters. One restaurant in D.C. is charging $199.95 for a pound and a half of crab legs. A restaurant in Miami has gone so far as to import live red king crab from Norway, each one tagged with its own QR code, and they’re charging $144 per pound for crab legs, and $115 per pound for whole crab. Surprisingly, consumers are paying. 

However, the cost is only going to keep rising as the US government banned imports from Russia, including seafood, as part of their effort to impose sanctions in response to the war in Ukraine, and sources for crab are becoming even more limited. 

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