The decline of populations of snow crab and Bristol Bay red king crab stocks in Alaska in 2022 have their origins in climatic events, with the red king crab closure in Bristol Bay related to a continued decline in that stock for many years, according to NOAA and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
‘Understandably these declines and subsequent fishery closures are of great concern, especially for the fishing industry, the fishermen who make their livelihoods fishing crab, and the communities that depend on these fisheries to support their economies,’ said Dr. Robert Foy, Science and Research Director at the NOAA Fisheries Alaska Fisheries Science Center.
He stated that NOAA Fisheries uses an Ecosystem Based Fisheries Management approach to assess environmental and climate influences on stock production.
‘Recent declines in Bristol Bay red king crab fisheries are part of a 50+ year history of highly variable stock abundance that included previous fishery closures. The Bering Sea snow crab stock decline was more sudden and linked to extreme oceanographic events,’ he said.
‘In 2019, a marine heatwave was responsible for numerous marine ecosystem changes. The heatwave likely affected adult and juvenile snow crab survival in a number of ways (starvation, disease, migration, predation, etc.) leading to the population decline. Improving our understanding of all the factors behind these population declines is the focus of ongoing research.’
In addition to ecosystem data, NOAA Fisheries and its State of Alaska partners have provided survey and fishery data and conducted stock assessments to track abundance trends and inform fisheries management since the 1970s in Alaska.
‘Our science-based management process is outlined in Fishery Management Plans developed in accordance with federal requirements under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Stock assessments and data sources are subject to a public, transparent, and rigorous, peer-review process. External experts are an important part of the review process to ensure that the integrity of the science and management responses are appropriate and based on the best scientific information available,’ Robert Foy said.
‘Climate change will continue to present challenges to our understanding of marine ecosystems in Alaska and elsewhere. We have a robust science enterprise and management system that will allow us to better prepare and adapt to these changes.’