Alaska snow crab collapse attributed to starvation – Fishermens News

A snow crab from the Bering Sea. Photo: NOAA Fisheries.

Federal fisheries researchers studying the dramatic crash of the snow crab in the Bering Sea from 2018 to 2021 found that the crab's calorie needs quadrupled as ocean temperatures rose and the crab eventually starved to death.

Snow crabs eat almost anything they can catch and break open with their claws. Their diet includes fish, shrimp, crabs, worms, clams, mussels, snails, algae and sponges, as well as anything they find dead.

In 2018, there were more snow crabs in the Bering Sea than ever before, said Cody Szuwalski, a fisheries biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

So the decline of about 10 billion crabs from 2018 to 2021 was a steep, unexpected drop, he said in a NOAA podcast interview.

It wasn't immediately clear what was happening because the temperatures observed in the Bering Sea were not lethal, even for crabs.

The NOAA team first examined a number of possible causes for the snow crab's rapid decline, including cod predation, cannibalism and disease. Rising temperatures themselves were not fatal to the crab.

In one of the most important studies they conducted, crabs were placed in water at different temperatures and then measured how much they ate. The team was able to calculate the population's calorie needs over time and calculated that these calorie needs quadrupled.

These crabs were in a narrower area of ​​the Bering Sea and must have starved to death, they said.

The findings were reported in an April 25 podcast in which Szuwalski was interviewed by John Sheehan, host of “Dive In With NOAA Fisheries.”

Anna Harden

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