As a result of declining snow crab populations in the Bering Sea, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has, for the first time in the state’s history, closed the crab fishery for the winter. While the loss of customers will affect restaurants, scientists are more concerned about the impact on the Arctic ecosystem.
State officials have reported that over a billion crabs have vanished over the past two years. This represents a 90% decrease in their numbers.
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Gabriel Prout, whose Kodiak Island livelihood is dependent on the snow crab population, was concerned when it began to decline and he heard rumours that the crabs had migrated north in search of colder water. “Do you think they went all the way across the line? Did they go over the edge of the continental shelf into the Bering Sea?”
ADF&G scientist Ben Daly is trying to find out what happened to the crabs. He keeps an eye on the condition of the fisheries in the state, which supply sixty percent of the United States’ seafood needs. Daly told CBS News that “disease is one possibility.”
Moreover, he brings up global warming. Alaska is losing billions of tonnes of ice annually, which is crucial for crabs that require cold water to survive, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Daly has noted the “rapid” shift in environmental conditions. “Recently, the Bering Sea has been unusually warm, and scientists have noticed a response from a species that normally lives in colder climates. For other organisms, it serves as a proverbial canary in a coal mine.”
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Fishermen need a relief programme, as advocated by Prout, just like farmers do when they suffer crop failure or when their communities are hit by natural disasters like hurricanes or floods.
When asked what can be done to help fishermen whose livelihoods are at risk, Prout said, “Wishing and praying. That’s the most appropriate expression, I suppose.”