NOAA verifies Bering Sea snow crab fishery resource disaster

A crabbing vessel in Alaska
A crabbing vessel in Alaska | Photo courtesy of mark stephens photography/Shutterstock
4 Min

NOAA Fisheries has determined that a fishery resource disaster took place in Alaska’s Bering Sea snow crab fishery after the 2023-2024 season was canceled due to a drastic decline in the stock's population.

“Due to several factors, such as unfavorable ocean conditions and prolonged marine heatwaves in the Bering Sea, this fishery experienced an unexpected biomass decline and loss of access under the Magnuson-Stevens Act," Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo said. “The factors mentioned caused the 2023-2024 Bering Sea snow crab fishery to experience a 100 percent revenue loss – compared to the previous five-year average with no fishery resource disaster determination.”

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game canceled the season in October 2023 after trawl surveys showed crab abundances in the Bering Sea have not recovered from a mystery mortality event, which NOAA research now suggests was primarily due to a 2018-2019 marine heatwave. Surveys show a 50 percent population decline in the snow crab population from 2018 to 2019. A 2021 NOAA survey also found historically low abundance, with regulators following that up by canceling the 2022-2023 season.

The canceled seasons have caused a financial crisis for the city government of Saint Paul, Alaska, U.S.A., which depends on taxes and fees that come from the snow crab fishery for 60 percent of its general fund revenue, according to a letter requesting federal assistance sent to the Department of Commerce by Mayor Jacob Merculief. In the letter, Merculief claims the city collected USD 2.7 million (EUR 2.5 million) in annual revenue from the snow crab fishery on average from 2018 to 2021. The city has responded to the drastic loss in revenue by conducting a hiring freeze, laying off employees, and cutting back spending. 

The city proposed a package of tax and rate increases to make up some of the revenue, but the total annual value of all those changes would only bring in about USD 200,000 (EUR 184,000), according to the mayor’s request for federal aid.

The city’s request for a formal fishery disaster finding was officially approved this month, opening the door for federal financial assistance, the amount of which has yet to be announced.

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