It’s a mystery that has scientists on the hunt: 90% of the snow crab population disappeared from Alaskan waters where they’re usually harvested annually.
Many feared that it was a population collapse, a terrifying bellwether of things to come for other sensitive marine species. The estimated population dropped from around 8 billion snow crabs in 2018 to 1 billion last year.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) has canceled the annual snow crab harvest for the first time ever.
Now, years after concern first circulated among experts, there aren’t many answers – but there’s at least a suggestion as to what may have happened to the snow crab population.
Some experts suggest that it’s because they’re being forced to adapt to abnormally warm waters in the Bering Sea. The cold-water-loving crabs may have been forced into smaller pockets of cold water, increasing competition for limited resources and increasing stress which makes them more susceptible to disease and predators.
Miranda Westphal at ADF&G says, “It is likely that we will continue to see [snow crab] declines for the next 3 to 4 years. We are hopeful that if these small crab survive… the population will eventually rebuild.”