In October 2022, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced the first ever cancellation of the Bering Sea snow crab season.

An estimated 10 billion snow crabs essentially went missing.

The reason? Warming waters due to climate change.

Alaska snow crabs are arctic animals that live in areas in the Bering Sea that are covered by ice in the winter. Scientists monitor the crabs annually and in 2018 things looked promising.

”We saw all these small crabs on the survey,” said Mike Litzow, Lab Director at Kodiak Lab for the Alaska Fisheries Center, which is part of NOAA. “They looked like they were just about to be big enough to enter the part of the population that’s fished.”

Mike Litzow, Lab Director at Kodiak NOAA Fisheries, searches for Snow Crab at saltwater research lab in February. (Photo by Reynaldo Leaños Jr.)

Then, in 2019, things changed.

“The survey came back showing about half the numbers that we’d seen the year before,” said Mike.

Tanks filled with Snow Crab at the Kodiak NOAA Fisheries laboratory. (Photo by Reynaldo Leaños Jr.)

There was no survey in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and in 2021 the number of snow crab were drastically low, leading to the season’s cancellation the following year.

The snow crab season is estimated to be a $200 million dollar industry and many people in and around Kodiak rely on the fishing season, with some families having caught snow crabs for generations.

Pedro Cruz in Kodiak is one of those people. He’s been catching snow crabs for more than 20 years and had to recently pivot to working side gigs to get by, including tendering.

Pedro Cruz is working to help move Tanner Crab from the Arctic Lady to the dock above in Kodiak, Alaska. (Photo by Reynaldo Leaños Jr.)

“What I’m doing right now wasn’t on the calendar,” Pedro told Latino USA in Spanish. “If I wasn’t doing this I’d be at home without work.”

Pedro originally moved to Kodiak in the early ‘90s for work.

Chad Lowenberg, who is the captain of the boat that Pedro works on, has also been feeling the impacts of the snow crab season cancellation.

(Left) View from the Arctic Lady towards the deck of the ship where Pedro Cruz is working. (Right) View from the Arctic Lady’s wheelhouse in Kodiak, Alaska. (Photos by Reynaldo Leaños Jr.)

“I’m going to say two-thirds of the fleet will not make it,” said Chad. “The community’s going to be hurt. People are going to have to find other things to do. It’s going to be tough times.”

Both men now must make a choice, stay in an industry that has long supported them, or permanently find another way of living.

Pedro Cruz and Chad Lowenberg assist with transferring Tanner Crab from the Arctic Lady to the dock above them. (Photo by Reynaldo Leaños Jr.)

On this episode of Latino USA, producer Reynaldo Leaños Jr. travels to Kodiak, Alaska to learn more about the science of what exactly happened to the snow crab, hear how fishermen and a community that has for years relied on this industry are trying to stay afloat, as well as examine the impacts of climate change beyond snow crab.

Featured image by Reynaldo Leaños Jr. 

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