‘Deadliest Catch’ Disaster: Alaska snow crab season canceled for the first time ever

For the first time in history, Alaska has canceled its famous snow crab, aka “opies,” fishing season after one billion crustaceans have gone missing from the Bering Sea, causing the population to drop by 90 percent.

(Video Credit: WUSA9)

The cancellation was confirmed on Monday. Authorities are investigating the massive disappearance of crabs and are unsure whether it is due to disease or what they claim could be climate change.

The whopping drop in the population of crabs has occurred over the last two years according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Snow crabs are usually found in Alaskan waters that include the Bering, Beauford. and Chuckchi seas. Approximately 65 boats fish in those waters but officials are claiming that the reduction in crabs is not due to over-fishing.

Alaska provides 60 percent of the seafood we enjoy here in the United States. The massive reduction in the crab population is not just alarming, it spells catastrophe for the fishing business there.

Along with the snow crab season getting nixed, the Bristol Bay red king crab season has also been canceled — for the second consecutive year.

Miranda Westphal, who is with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, told Alaska Public Media in an interview, “In 2021 when they surveyed, we saw the largest decline we’ve ever seen in the snow crab population, which was very startling, I think, for everyone.”

Westphal also asserts that she believes global warming is involved in the disappearance of the crabs. She contends that the crabs may have starved to death because their metabolism increased due to warm water.

In contrast to this year, she reported that 2018 saw the biggest growth in the snow crab population in recorded history. The growth slowed in 2019. There was no crab census in 2020 due to the pandemic.

The number in 2021 was “the biggest crash we’ve ever seen in snow crab,” Westphal remarked.

Ben Daly, who is another Alaska Department of Fish and Game scientist, told CBS News that he thinks the cause of the disappearance is due to some kind of illness among the crabs.

“Snow crab is by far the most abundant of all the Bering Sea crab species that is caught commercially,” Daly told CNN. “So the shock and awe of many billions missing from the population is worth noting – and that includes all the females and babies.”

“Environmental conditions are changing rapidly,” he told CBS News, also pondering climate change. “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. It is a canary in a coal mine for other species that need cold water.”

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game commented in a statement, “Management of Bering Sea snow crab must now focus on conservation and rebuilding given the condition of the stock. Efforts to advance our science and understanding of crab population dynamics are underway.”

Gabriel Prout, who is a local fisherman, told Alaska Public Media in an interview, “People are really going to have to make some hard calls here, whether that’s… selling their vessels [or] looking for other opportunities in other fishing sectors which is few and far between. Fishermen are really going to be hurting the next year.”

“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?” Prout asked.

Dean Gribble Sr., a lifetime trawlerman, told NBC News during an interview that the decision to cancel the season would be “life-changing, if not career-ending for people.”

He has worked in those waters since the 1970s and captains his own vessel.

“A lot of these guys with families and kids, there’s no option other than getting out. That’s where the hammer is going to fall — on the crew,” Gribble added.

Jamie Goen, who is the executive director of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, told KING5 in an interview, “Many of them are small family businesses, second- and third-generation fishermen and they are losing their jobs. It’s simply devastating.”

The estimated value of snow crab fishing in the Bering Sea is almost $102 million according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The wife of one of the stars of Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” said that the fishermen found out at the same time as everyone else that the season was canceled — it remains to be seen how this may impact the popular show in its 18th season.

Bri Dwyer, who is the wife of Sean Dwyer, reported that the fishermen are allowed to catch Bairdi, a specific type of snow crab.

“There’s a small Bairdi season, a little over 2 million pounds and we need to see if it makes sense for our boats,” she told the Daily Mail.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game also announced on Monday that a small Bering Sea crab harvest of more than 2 million pounds of tanner crab will open on Oct. 16.

None of that is reportedly enough to keep the crabbers afloat.

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