Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

1 billion Alaskan snow crabs vanished and scientists are blaming climate change

Alaska has canceled its snow crab season for the first time ever: Here's what it all means

In a turn that can only described as unprecedented, officials have canceled the 2022 Alaska snow crab season. It’s a first for the fishery and a major sign that climate change is altering the ocean as we know it. According to the EPA, the crabs, along with other cold-water Bering Sea species like Pacific halibut, have been moving farther out to sea since the 1980s.

Scientists and state officials have been monitoring populations for some time. According to The Guardian, last year’s snow crab harvest was one of the smallest in four decades. While this is the first time the snow crab catch has been halted, it’s almost become the new norm for other species. The fall king crab season was canceled in both 2021 and 2022. Those in the know project that billions (yes, with a “b”) of snow crabs have vanished from their usual Bering Sea spots.

Seattle Public Market Fish Stand with Crab Legs.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Overfishing and disease may be factors but Michael Litzow, the Kodiak lab director for NOAA Fisheries, told CNN that climate change “caused the collapse.” Warmer weather has been more dramatic in the Arctic and is dramatically changing the oceanic environment there. Melting ice caps, warmer water temperatures, and changes in the ocean’s chemistry have all combined to push the crustaceans out. Experts estimate a decline in the snow crab population to the tune of 90 percent over the last several years. That means the fishery has gone from some 8 billion snow crabs to 1 billion between 2018 and now.

The hope, of course, is to ease outside pressure and allow the population to rebound. Unfortunately, this will almost certainly put many in the fishing community out of work. And, without a snow crab season, seafood restaurants will suffer as well. Seafood is Alaska’s largest export, bringing in some $3.3 billion annually. Perhaps that’s no surprise, given that Alaska has the most coastline of any U.S. state, by far.

Snow crabs are one of the most important commercially fished species in the state. The only Alaskan species that tend to produce more catch weight per year are Dungeness and king crab. Snow crabs and prized for their meaty physique and tend to live in the cold waters of places like Alaska and Maine. The canceled catch will likely cause many outfits in the area to go out of business. As reported, the Alaska Bearing Sea Crabbers (ABSC) is a pretty small, tight-knit organization of some 60 vessels equipped to handle the notoriously treacherous sea and harvest crabs. Many are family-run.

The cancellation was formally announced on Monday by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. There’s a smaller bairdi crab (a different sub-species of snow crab) catch that some may go for instead, but all in all, without snow crab this year, it’s going to be a long winter for Alaskan crabbers. Worse, it’s one more dramatic example of climate change wreaking havoc; another call to arms for politicians and lawmakers to exact some real, imminently needed change.

Experts will monitor conditions going forward, opening fisheries accordingly. There’s a good chance that there will be a significant pause to allow the population to rebound. That, and the better crabbing zones will likely continue to push north. As big fans of both crab and Alaska, we hope the community can find other resources, get some federal aid, and actively participate in efforts to curb global warming.

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
The best bars in New York City: Our top picks
Here's where to belly up to the bar in NYC
The Quixote Bar.

If you're known as The City That Never Sleeps, you probably have a few good bars to your name. New York is the ultimate beehive, going strong regardless of the borough or time of day. That makes for a pretty rich NYC bar culture.

Sure, there are trending establishments that draw huge lines—look at you, Double Chicken Please. But there are also excellent dives, tremendous wine bars, and watering holes that make you reexamine the definition of a great cocktail.

Read more
The complete guide to cleaning a fish for beginners
A step-by-step guide to handling your next fishing trip haul
Hands holding trout

Sporting your best fishing gear and you just landed a big catch? Nice work! A tasty, fresh fish fillet is just a few slices away. Whether you’re planning to cook the whole fish, steak it, or fillet it, you must learn how to clean your catch. Follow this guide to learn how to clean a fish you just caught fresh.
How long can you keep fresh fish before cleaning it?

Now that you have some freshly caught fish, how long can you keep it whole before it needs to be cleaned? Fish, after all, has incredible health benefits; ideally, you want to clean the whole fish as soon as possible to preserve the best flavor. However, if time or other constraints are an issue for you, you can keep whole fish uncleaned on ice or refrigerated for a day or two at the max. Any longer, and you risk losing precious flavor and texture and risk spoilage.
Preparing to clean a fish

Read more
What is dim sum? A guide to China’s most famous culinary tradition
You can also make this delicacy at home
Baskets of dim sum, a traditional breakfast

One of the most famous culinary traditions of China, dim sum restaurants are a culinary institution in many American Chinatowns. Translated in Cantonese as "to touch the heart," dim sum is usually eaten in the morning and is originally from Southern China. Throughout China, there are different versions of dim sum, called xiao chi ("little eats" in Mandarin) besides the Cantonese version. For this guide, Cantonese dim sum will be the focus.

Although delicious, dim sum can be an intimidating process because of its seemingly endless array of dumplings and pastries. However, we'd say that dim sum is a great experience and a lively environment for a social gathering.
What's the difference between dim sum and dumplings?
First, let's clarify this. Below, we refer to dim sum as dumplings, but there is a difference between dim sum and general dumplings; however, the two are related. Here are some key differences to know.

Read more