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Alaska's snow crab season canceled for the first time ever, officials perplexed by mysterious disappearance of 1 billion crabs

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A mysterious disappearance of an estimated 1 billion snow crabs has forced Alaska to cancel the winter snow crab season – the first time in state history.

On Monday, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) canceled the entire 2022-2023 snow crab season.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game declared, "The stock is estimated to be below the ADF&G regulatory threshold for opening a fishery. Therefore, Bering Sea snow crab will remain closed for the 2022/23 season."

For the second year in a row, ADF&G officials canceled the Bristol Bay red king crab harvest for the 2022-2023 season.

There has been a sudden and dramatic plunge in crab stocks in the region.

Miranda Westphal – an area management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game – noted that the conservation organization had seen the "largest pulse of small crab we’d ever seen in the history of the fishery" in 2018.

However, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game told USA Today that there was a whopping 92% decrease in overall snow crab abundance from 2018 to 2021. Last year's snow crab harvest was 5.6 million pounds – the smallest in more than 40 years.

An estimated 1 billion snow crabs have mysteriously disappeared in two years, state officials told CBS News.

Westphal said the 2021 harvest was "the biggest crash we’ve ever seen in snow crab."

"That was really unexpected," she added. "I don’t think anyone saw this coming."

Scientists are bewildered by the sudden disappearance of snow crabs.

The Seattle Times reported, "Scientists are still researching the causes of the snow crab population collapse, which likely include increased predation as well as stresses from the warmer water that caused crabs’ metabolisms to increase and could have led to starvation."

Ben Daly – a researcher with ADF&G – said, "Disease is one possibility."

The cancelation of the snow crab season could cost the state's economy $200 million and could be career-ending for some.

Dean Gribble Sr. – a crab boat captain who has fished for snow crab since the late 1970s – told NBC News, "It's going to be life-changing, if not career-ending, for people. A lot of these guys with families and kids, there’s no option other than getting out. That’s where the hammer is going to fall – on the crew."

The ADF&G said going forward, "Management of Bering Sea snow crab must now focus on conservation and rebuilding, given the condition of the stock."

In 1983, there was a similar crash that wiped out a massive amount of the population of the Alaskan king crabs. At the time, scientists were perplexed by the mysterious disappearance of Alaskan king crab and blamed factors "ranging from parasitic disease to increasing losses to predatory fish species to warmer ocean currents to overfishing."

The canceled snow crab season will contribute to the ever-growing food shortages that have been felt worldwide.

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