Snow Crabs disappear from the sea and from restaurants
Despite dramatically reduced catch quotas, fishermen can't even land small quantities of Snow Crabs.
The Bering Sea snow crab is one of the most sought-after delicacies in US restaurants: these animals have a hard rounded shell, four pairs of walking legs, and one pair of claws; they can reach six inches in shell width and may live up to 20 years. In 2020, Alaska snow crab commercial landings totalled more than 36.6 million pounds. Their sweet white meat is highly sought after by gourmets in the US and other countries.
But now they have disappeared. Despite dramatically reduced catch quotas, fishermen can't even land these small quantities. In February, this crab species was described as “overfished”. This year, fishing quotas have already been cut by 88 per cent. But not even these quantities can be caught. The snow crabs are simply gone. Fishermen report empty traps.
Shrinking of the populations
As recently as the 1990s, more than 300 million pounds of snow crab were caught. After that, things went rapidly downhill, and climate change and the warming of the world's oceans, in particular, have contributed to the shrinking of the populations of the coveted crabs. The snow crab needs the winter ice to thrive: this allows the algae that these animals eat to grow; moreover, in the zones with low temperatures, the crabs are safe from hunters that can only hunt in warmer waters. But the ice in the Bering Sea has decreased significantly and will continue to shrink in the coming years.
Marine biologists do not yet know whether climate change is the leading cause of the disappearance - but it looks very much like it at the moment. Fishermen's methods could also be a factor. Trawl vessels can harm crabs as they tow more giant nets to catch fish. These nets drag around and can crush crabs and disturb their habitat.
Price of king crabs has risen sharply
The fishing industry is suffering from the decline because snow crabs, together with king crabs, are their most important product. And the disappearance of the smaller snow crabs means that the price of king crabs has risen sharply: $200 for a pound and a half is now charged in American restaurants. On top of that, there are no supplies from Russia either: the US authorities have banned the import of many Russian foods, including seafood.
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