Washington Post On Alaska’s Declining Crab Harvests

While Deadliest Catch has made Alaskan crab fishing a must-watch pastime for Discovery Channel viewers – we’ve profiled many of the show’s most fearless and eccentric characters – the Alaskan crab industry as a whole is not doing well, as this Washington Post report suggests. Here’s more:

The collapse of two of three major crab stocks in Alaska — there’s a third, bairdi crab, also called tanner crab, which is doing fine, but is a much smaller industry — is more than a gastronomic inconvenience for the one-percenters. It is the main source of income for many of the 65 communities that make up the Western Alaska Community Development Quota Program, which allocates a portion of the annual fish harvest of certain commercial species directly to coalitions of villages that, because of geographic isolation and diminished access to sources of income, have had limited economic opportunities, says Heather McCarty, a fisheries consultant in Juneau.

The program was established to provide economic and social benefits for residents of western Alaska, alleviating poverty in what often are Indigenous communities.

“I work in the Pribilof Islands for an Aleut community of 450 people, which is heavily invested in the crab quota,” McCarty said. On the island of St. Paul, Trident Seafoods has one of the largest crab processing plants in the world, employing as many as 400 workers during peak snow crab season in February. This February, it was quiet.

The story tries to break down several possibilities for the snow and king crab struggles, including climate change. But as one NOAA scientist said in the story, there’s not a clear-cut reason why the prized seafood is drying up in Alaskan waters:

“We don’t have data to specifically say what happened,” said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Bob Foy, the science and research director of the agency’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center. “What we know is that we had extreme heat wave in 2019, and we had numerous fish and crab stocks moving into areas they hadn’t been historically. The fishery moved its effort toward the northwest.”