Fishermen face hardship after closure of crab seasons

Rush Hour

(NewsNation) — Fishermen and their families are facing the prospect of severe financial hardship following the decision by Alaska state officials to cancel the fall harvest of red king crab and the winter harvest of snow crab.

One of those fishermen is Gabriel Prout, whose family has been harvesting crab in the Bering Sea for the past four decades.

Prout, a commercial fisherman in Kodiak, said the cancellation of the winter harvest is going to have “devastating” impacts on his family. He works alongside his two brothers and father on their 116-foot vessel, Silver Spray.

“We’re trying to figure not only emotionally what we’re going through, but logistically, to figure out how we can keep moving forward here,” Prout said Monday on NewsNation’s “Rush Hour.”

The decision to cancel the harvests come amid a population decline in snow crab after a 2019 Bering Sea warming that scrambled the broader marine ecosystem. Last year’s snow crab harvest of 5.6 million pounds was the smallest in over 40 years.

The causes of the snow crab population collapse are still being researched, but likely include increased predation and stresses from the warmer water. Because the harvests are regulated by state and federal agencies, fishermen are sure of one thing: they haven’t overcaught.

“We’re not trying to go out there and pad our pockets and go out there and catch as much crab as we can,” Prout said. “Did those crab go deeper in search of that colder water? Those predators like warmer water … so maybe they came in and essentially destroyed the crab.”

The closure came as a bit of surprise, Prout said, because there were virtually no warning signs over the past several years.

“In 2016, 2017, 2018, We were coming off the largest recruitment event in the history of the fishery,” he said. “There was a tremendous amount of small crab coming into the fleet and the Bering Sea.”

For families to survive, Prout said they’ll need major financial assistance.

“The most important thing is to get a rapid relief financial program for fishermen that are going to experience disasters like this,” he said. “We’re looking down the barrel of bankruptcy and bank seizures of vessels.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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