"How Ocean Warming Is Killing a Prime Alaska Crab Fishery"

"For the Aleut community of St. Paul, Alaska, the loss of snow crabs is rippling through the economy and raising concerns about the future."

"On a normal winter day on St. Paul, an island in the Bering Sea some 480 kilometers off the coast of Alaska, the community would be humming with activity. At the Trident Seafood crab processing plant, the diesel engines of commercial crab boats would be gurgling, and lifts would be running nonstop, transferring thousands of kilograms of snow crab into the plant. “Those sounds are a reminder that money is coming in,” St. Paul’s city manager, Phil Zavadil, said in February from his office in city hall. But instead, St. Paul, a mostly Aleut community of just under 500, was silent. From “an environmental aesthetic point of view,” Zavadil admitted, the quiet was nice. “But it translates into the real-world [budget] cuts we’re experiencing now.”

In early October 2022, for the first time ever, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game canceled the Bering Sea season for snow crab (also known as opilio crab) after an annual survey revealed an almost total population collapse. No Bering Sea community was hit harder than St. Paul, whose economy relies almost entirely on snow crab, thanks to Trident, whose plant there is the largest crab processing facility in North America. Most of Trident’s 400 or so workers are seasonal and come from outside St. Paul, but the facility generates millions for the city through a “landing tax” imposed on commercial fishing boats, a tax on crab sales, and fees for fuel, supplies, and support services for the snow crab fleet.

Heather McCarty, of the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, which manages community fisheries allocations for St. Paul, said in February that the city’s tax revenues went from about US $2.5-million two years ago to approximately $200,000 this year. “It was all snow crab all the time,” she said at the time. “[Now] they have about a year’s worth of reserves that will allow them to survive with the municipal services relatively intact, but, after that, it’s anybody’s guess how they’ll actually pay for really basic things.”"

Andrew S. Lewis reports for Hakai magazine July 27, 2023.

Source: Hakai, 07/31/2023