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Researchers Observe Warm Bering Sea

Water temperatures in the Bering sea are warmer this year, but it is not worrying researchers. The Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation recently returned from three weeks of surveying tanner crab in the Bering Sea. The non-profit was formed by commercial crab industry leaders in 2003. Although the organization refrains from saying too much until the numbers have been posted, Executive Director Scott Goodman says during the surveys he observed warmer water temperatures.

“I think the temperatures are really important," Goodman said. "We're going to learn more and more as we go. This is the third warm year in a row where the water temperatures have stayed relatively warm, not just in the summer period, but all through the rest of the year as well. And that definitely affects the abundance and where crab are.”

This is especially effecting bottom water where crab live.

“The cold pool is usually something that the NMFS [National Marine Fisheries Service] surveys observe," Goodman said. "And in a cold year, they’ll observe it in a really significant way. And in a warmer year its retracted back so you don’t really see it until you’re into the very deep water of Bristol Bay or the outer shelf and this year we didn’t really see it at all.’”

But he's not concerned because restrictions on crab are inherently conservative to ensure the sustainability of the stock. Plus, rising sea temperatures have been seen before.

“There’s a very, very strong ecosystem in the Bering Sea that appears to be very sustainable in almost every front," Goodman said. "Crab go up and down. Fish go up and down. Natural cycles respond to natural stimulus from temperature, from salinity, from ocean acidification, from toxins, from parasites, natural mortality.”

He says the more researchers learn, the more of a challenge it becomes to manage the fishery and be sustainable.

Now, Goodman -- and the rest of the state -- is waiting for August 15th when the NMFS shares their crab data.

Zoë Sobel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2019. She returned to KUCB after a year living in Nepal and Malaysia as a Luce Scholar. She then returned to KUCB as a ProPublica reporter August of 2020 through August of 2021.