Demise of Alaska’s Bering Sea Crab Fisheries Expected to Have Ripple Effect

Crab traps. File photo.

Analysis published by Seattle-based online nonprofit news website Crosscut predicts the collapse of crab fisheries in Alaska’s Bering Sea will have ripple effects in Washington state as well as Alaska.

Since 2006, 57% of snow crab fleet vessels have been registered to Washington addresses. During the 2020-2021 season, 27 members of that 60-boat crab boat fleet were registered in the Seattle metropolitan area.

That same year, Bering Sea snow crab generated $62.6 million in revenue across King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, plus $6.8 million elsewhere in Washington, according to a rebuilding plan drafted by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

Also, according to the Seattle-based Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers (ABSC), compounded with several poor harvests, the canceled crabbing seasons are estimated to have cost the industry over $287 million the past two years.

Snow crab are considered to be the meat and potatoes of the Bering Sea’s primary crab fisheries, so when the snow crab season’s closed the situation becomes extremely dire, science advisor Cory Lescher of ABSC told Crosscut.

Despite congressional approval of disaster relief funds to benefit the fishing industry, it could be years before the fleet sees any of that money.

Adam Hosmer, co-founder and vice president of operations and sales for Whidbey Island Seafood Company grew up fishing on Whidbey Island and is one of the fishing vessel Baranof’s first mates. He told Crosscut that nobody ever thought snow crab would disappear.

Back in the late 1970s, crab was the main focus of the vessel’s catch, but in recent years crab has made up just 30% of their catch. Last year, the Baranof fished once with 175 crab pots, a little more than one-third of the 500 pots used in the Bering Sea in the 19802 and 1990s.  When the season opens on Jan. 15, bairdi crab is expected to make up just 3% of the harvest.