There will be no winter snow crab season in the Bering Sea this year, Alaskan agencies have announced, blaming the plunging crustacean population. The decision deals a major financial blow to crews, the industry, and the state's economy as a whole, CNBC reports. "It's going to be life-changing, if not career-ending, for people," said Dean Gribble Sr., 63, a crab boat captain who has fished for snow crab since the late 1970s. "A lot of these guys with families and kids, there's no option other than getting out. That's where the hammer is going to fall—on the crew."
The reasons for the population decline aren't completely clear yet, but it comes after several years of record warmth in Bering Sea waters; summers have become warmer in Alaska, as well. Miranda Westphal, a state biologist, said it's likely that the warmer waters contributed to young crabs starving, and the federal government designates snow crabs as overfished, per the Washington Post. State officials said there's not much that can be done at this point other than calling off the harvest to give the crabs a chance to rebound. "They need time and space and favorable conditions to rebuild," the biologist said.
The most plausible theory, experts said, is that the water heated up at a bad time for the snow crab, when they were huddled together in a cold pool on the floor of the Bering Sea. The pools have become smaller as sea ice shrinks, leaving the crab without enough room. "They couldn’t deal with it," Westphal said. "They couldn't find enough food. They couldn't move to colder waters." At the same time, the state called off the red king crab season for the second consecutive year. People in the industry said the cost will be high. "Second- and third-generation crab-fishing families will go out of business due to the lack of meaningful protections by decision-makers to help crab stocks recover," said the head of a trade association of crab harvesters. (Read more crab fishing stories.)