The Mystery of Billions of Missing Alaskan Crabs and What it Means for our Food Security

The disappearance of billions of snow crabs from the waters of Alaska has been making international headlines since last week (week of October 12th, 2022). The Alaska snow crab harvest has been canceled for the first time ever after billions of crustaceans have disappeared from the cold, treacherous waters of the Bering Sea in recent years.

The Alaska Board of Fisheries and North Pacific Fishery Management Council announced last week that the population of snow crabs in the Bering Sea fell below the regulatory threshold to open up the fishery. But the actual numbers behind that decision are shocking: The snow crab population shrank from around eight billion in 2018 to one billion in 2021, according to Benjamin Daly, a researcher with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

What caused this collapse?

Officials cited overfishing as their rationale for canceling the seasons, but many are already talking about global warming as a potential reason.

Alaska is the fastest warming state in the United States, according to Climate Central, an independent group of scientists researching and reporting  about changing climate. And rising temperatures in Alaska’s cold waters may be killing the crustaceans.

When the water warms, the crab’s metabolism increases, requiring more fuel, and it is possible that they starved to death and there was not enough food.

Who is working on securing our food supply?

Miami-based Blue Star Foods Corp. BSFC is working to solve exactly this problem of ensuring a safe and secure marine protein supply of the freshest quality.  The company has two parts of its business, the first is a legacy importer of premium blue crab meat from Southeast Asia, Mexico and Latin America and the other division is an innovative producer of land-based marine protein in North America.

So how will the canceling of the snow crab season in Alaska influence Blue Star? The first business should do extremely well as crab meat prices go up dramatically, and those who source it and bring it into the US will be able to command generous prices.  Blue Crab meat is the next of kin  to crab ingredients on menus. Assuming that Blue Star continues to sell the same volume (and their volumes have been growing), their revenues could go up +30% without even selling more products.

The second business is in the Recirculatory Aquaculture System (RAS) space.  These are land-based, temperature and climate-controlled systems that are designed with food safety and continuity in mind.  Blue Star has a salmon farm in British Columbia and a crab farm in South Carolina that is the first of its kind and scaling rapidly to meet growing demand.  These indoor, land-based RAS facilities are considered the future of seafood security in North America.

What other companies may be affected?

This is a massive dislocation of marine protein supply into the United States, and some of the biggest companies that focus on retail food sales/distribution could be affected, including Albertsons Companies, Inc. ACISprouts Farmers Market, Inc. SFM, Weis Markets, Inc. WMK and The Kroger Co. KR.  Another company that may be significantly impacted is Carnival Cruise line CCL, as they are one of the largest individual buyers of crabmeat for their cruises. Will they replace crab meat with other marine protein, and will that make the prices of salmon and other kinds of seafood more expensive?  

More importantly, is this major disruption a view into the future of what these companies will have to deal with?  Drought, war, ocean pollution and the prevalence of microplastics are all changing the way we feed the planet.

Last year’s drought conditions in the Western United States made inland rivers, lakes and ponds created record low and warm water conditions that wiped out fish to the point where it was considered an “extinction event” by government officials in the states of Washington, Oregon and California.

The war in Ukraine is threatening to cut off certain grains from some of the world’s largest and poorest countries on Earth, with about twenty million tons of grain meant for export has been trapped in Ukraine since February, along with other foodstuffs such as maize and sunflower oil.

As these new, man-made issues become more prevalent, companies that are looking to make our food supply more secure will become increasingly more important and should benefit handsomely.

Image sourced from Shutterstock

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