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Dunleavy, Peltola request disaster funds for Bering Sea crab fisheries

Laura Kraegel

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has requested federal disaster declarations for two Alaska crab fisheries after their populations crashed.

Dunleavy requested expedited disaster designations to jumpstart the process of sending money to fishermen in both the 2022 Bering Sea snow crab and Bristol Bay red king crab fisheries, citing the complete closure of both this season.

Rep. Mary Peltola has also requested emergency relief funding in a letter addressed to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced earlier this month that the Bering Sea snow crab fishery will not open for the first time in its history.

Dunleavy also requested a disaster declaration for last year’s Bristol Bay red king crab fishery, which will remain closed for the second year in a row this season.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo dated Friday, Oct. 21, Dunleavy blamed “warming ocean temperatures” for the collapse of both Bering Sea crab stocks – and said the closures would be a $287 million hit to Alaska’s economy in seafood landings alone.

In a press release Wednesday, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers Executive Director Jamie Goen said that total economic losses to supporting industries, workers and coastal communities would likely be hundreds of millions of dollars more than that. Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers is a trade organization that advocates for Bering Sea fishermen.

Goen also said the closures represent a “defining moment in U.S. fisheries management” and that financial relief will likely take years to reach fishermen even with the expedited disaster requests.

King crab numbers have been on the decline for years, and snow crab stocks in the Bering Sea crashed between the years 2018 and 2021. Researchers don’t know exactly what happened, but they believe warmer ocean conditions caused by climate change is a main driver of the snow crab’s population decline.

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  • Bering Sea snow crab will close for the first time in the fishery’s history. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced Monday afternoon that snow crab — also known as opilio crab — and Bristol Bay red king crab would not open for the upcoming fall and winter fishing seasons. Miranda Westphal, an area management biologist for ADF&G, said stocks are just too low to justify opening either fishery. “All of our crab stocks in the Bering Sea have seen declines the last few years,” Westphal said. “[For] red king crab, we've been seeing declines for a little over a decade now. We just see very little recruitment coming into the population — not a lot of crab maturing into a fishable size. And so we're just seeing more of that this year.”
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