Crabbing industry loses fight to prevent fishing in critical Alaskan ecosystem

Fishing in designated areas off the Alaskan coast will continue despite pleas from collectors and conservation groups to close crucial habitat known for its red crabs and allow minimal disruption during the off-season.

The emergency action could have closed designated areas in Bristol Bay until at least early summer, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the petition failed to meet the criteria for determining that an emergency closure would benefit public life. Marine.

Several species of crab, including the red king, have experienced staggering declines in the past decade, prompting NOAA and other stakeholders to take extraordinary measures to limit the fishing season in an effort to try to protect crucial populations.

“We are concerned about the declining sophistication and understanding of marine habitats, which inevitably result in collapses and generally only become visible with the disappearance of commercially valuable species,” said Marissa Wilson, executive director of the Marine Conservation Council of Alaska, in a prepared document. comments to NOAA.


The red king crab seasons in 2021-22 and 2022-23 were canceled due to what officials said were population levels that were below the threshold for opening the fishery.

NOAA biologists have theorized that a changing climate has played a role in the variability of aquatic populations, but some organizations argue that more could be done to limit disruption.

Conservation groups say some fishing methods, such as trawling, in which nets are dragged through the water, disrupt habits too much, creating additional difficulties during a critical time for species.

“The vast majority (97%) of seafloor habitat disturbance in the North Pacific is caused by trawling. Preventing trawling disturbance by closing off areas to incoming trawlers in contact with the seafloor is a reasonable solution to allow habitats to rebuild.The Red King Crab Saver Area”, however, is not fulfilling its original management intent to provide undisturbed habitat for the crab. Trawling, both ‘pelagic’ and non-pelagic, that disturbs the seafloor is causing impacts to seafloor habitat in the area and resulting in the loss of essential fish habitat,” said Oceana, a fishery organization. Non-profit ocean conservation.

Experts said Alaska pollock and Pacific cod are two of the top fisheries caught during what is considered the off-season for red kings.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Range of Red King Crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus).


The State of Alaska estimated that direct losses due to catch cancellations in 2022 cost the fishing industry more than $287 million, not including impacts to supporting businesses.

“We remain committed to working with the Council and stakeholders to develop and review management measures to build greater resilience for Alaskan crab fisheries,” NOAA said in a news release.

The agency said a joint research project focusing on the Bristol Bay red king crab is expected to start in March and could help determine future management decisions.

State and federal officials have not indicated whether they expect the return of a more sufficient population in 2023 to allow the harvest season to reopen in the fall.

Biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said a decision regarding the 2023-24 season will likely be made after analysis of a summer survey is complete.