Warm Water Cancels Commercial Crabbing in the Pacific Ocean

Pacific Ocean crab populations are struggling to the point that commercial fisheries are being impacted. In October 2022 Alaska officials canceled the fall Bristol Bay red king crab season, and for the first time ever, the snow crab season as well. The season cancellations came as a result of poor summer population estimates and heightened disease occurrences due to warm water temperatures.

“Snow crab populations collapsed in the aftermath of a 2019 Bering Sea warming that scrambled the broader marine ecosystem” reported Hal Bernton of the Seattle Times.

“It will take the current small snow crab 3 to 5 years to grow to a fishable size”, said Jamie Goen, Executive Director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. 

Population concerns and closed fisheries are also occurring along the Oregon and Washington coast, where Dungeness crabs are declining and experiencing poor health due to warming water with low oxygen concentrations (hypoxia), acidic conditions, and harmful algae blooms. 

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The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife tests Dungeness crab to ensure a safe and robust meat harvest before the season opens, typically on December 1st each year. This year the crabs continue to test too low in body mass and too high in the toxin, domoic acid, to provide a marketable product. The Dungeness crab season is now projected to open on January 15th, 2023, assuming that delaying the season will lead to healthier crabs.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that “Hypoxia has resulted in mass mortality of crabs in commercial pots, and harmful algal bloom events have led to substantial fishing curtailment including season-scale closures. (1)”

Closing and delaying crabbing seasons may serve as temporary conservation measures for a problem that is not likely to resolve itself. Climate change could be affecting ocean conditions, and subsequently, marine life at the ecosystem scale. To this end, fishery advocates like Jamie Goen are calling for national policy change supporting adaptable, science-based fishery management to sustain fisheries in a changing environment.

(1) Science to Support a Climate-ready Dungeness Crab Fishery in the Northern California Current – NCCOS Coastal Science Website (

Brad Trumbo

Senior Staff Writer at Harvesting Nature Brad is an author and outdoor columnist who lives in southeast Washington State with his wife Ali and a pack of Llewellin setters on a small homestead. He serves the public as a fish and wildlife biologist and active Pheasants Forever life member. He pens conservation news for Harvesting Nature and authored the upland hunting book, Wingshooting the Palouse, which is available from Ingram Content Group and Amazon. You can find Brad on Instagram @tailfeathers_upland and @palouse_upland_media.

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