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The Snow Crab Mystery

In early October,2022 one of the most prolific events in the commercial fishing industry took place. The Alaskan snow crab fishery was indefinitely suspended due to record low numbers. Reportedly, 11 BILLION snow crabs are “missing” from the Bering Sea and experts are still clueless to the cause.

Over a period between 2018 and 2021 it is estimated that 9/10 snow crabs have mysteriously disappeared. This new development went largely under the radar as research teams in the Bering Sea were finally able to return in 2021 after closure in 2019 and large parts of 2020 due to Covid, they found that the population of crabs had been reduced to a tenth of what it was in 2018 in the same grounds. Likewise, some of these researchers are skeptical that the crabs are still around at all. With the regions that the surveyors visit expand there is still no sign of the large portion of the missing population, and with little evidence of them around some are calling it a mass die-off event. There are a few major culprits for this situation, the top of which being climate change. With undoubtable evidence of ocean warming near the poles (over 4 degrees) it is possible that in time no-one was monitoring their population, the crabs simply migrated farther North in search of warmer waters out of the range of the fishermen. Another theory related to climate change is that the increased temperature exposed the crabs to an increased chance of contracting diseases that they previously had higher tolerance to in the colder waters causing a mass die off. Another surprising yet possible theory is one that neither researchers or seasoned crabbers saw coming. A mass cannibalization event. With record numbers of immature younger crabs being caught as well as the warming temperatures, it could have been the perfect storm. Immature crabs need to actually consume more energy than adult snow crabs as they are in their stages of molting more often as well as growing. This combined with the warmer waters increasing the metabolisms of the crabs could have caused the crabs to go on a frenzy and essentially cannibalize each other to their current, seemingly stable population. Though a wild theory, it is easily explainable and plausible though we will probably never know the reason that those billions of crabs went missing hundreds of feet below the icy surface of the Bering Sea. Another major problem caused by this event was not only for the population of the crabs, but also for those who make a living catching them. The snow crab industry in Alaska is worth over 200 million dollars and a closure to the 2022 season will mark a major economic loss as hundreds will lose jobs. Along with a closure to the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery the crabbing industry in Alaska will be in rough shape until next winter. Though it will probably not lead to the disappearance of crab legs from Mother’s Day brunch it will most definitely affect the cost of seafood from Alaska as well as give us a scary reminder of the dangers of the warming oceans.

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