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Climate Changes on the Dinner Plate

Thu, 08/25/2022 - 13:11


Alaska's crabs have gone missing and climate change is the prime suspect. According to reporting in The Washington Post, what had been expected to be a huge harvest of valuable snow crab this season has not occurred. Fisheries regulators had allotted a total catch of 45 million pounds of snow crab last year, but within days of the beginning of the fishing season, they slashed the quota to 5.5 million pounds. King crabs, the much larger species familiar on restaurant menus, are also in sharp decline; their fishery closed entirely in 2021-22. 

The National Marine Fisheries Service conducted trawl surveys in Alaskan waters that found that crab populations were falling both in quantity and size. A massive die-off brought about by changing conditions below the water's surface appeared to be the most likely explanation.

Die-off. That phrase should be familiar here on the East End. For more than a decade, scallop populations have been in a nosedive. The Long Island Sound lobster harvest, once robust, has also fallen. 

In the case of the scallops, scientists believe they see a "perfect storm" of causes. Higher water temperatures, especially during their spawning, cause a drop in available oxygen and give a boost to a dangerous parasite. As a result, adult scallops are dying well before they reach harvestable size. Anecdotally, this may be an explanation of why there are so many small scallop shells these days on our bay beaches and few to no large ones.

The effects of anthropogenic climate change are already being seen, now even in the food we love. We know what we need to do -- reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The question is whether and when we will have the motivation to actually do it.

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