Snow crab Chionoecetes opilio O. Fabricius support major fisheries in the US eastern Bering Sea. Since the onset of this fishery in the US in the 1970s, catches increased until the early 1990s but were much reduced in the early 2000s. The male-only fishery is regulated by a quota, by season and by a minimum legal size, preventing the harvest of the much smaller females. Snow crabs are not fished in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, but occur all across the Chukchi shelf and at least in the western Beaufort Sea. They have not been found at the adjacent lower slopes (1000 m and deeper) or in the Canada Basin. In recent years the geographic range of distribution of C. opilio in the Bering Sea has contracted northward. Our own work suggests distribution shifts of C. opilio also within the Chukchi Sea.
Snow crab stock size and structure is strongly shaped by life cycle characteristics. Snow crabs are long-lived (~15 years in the case of large males) and undergo a series of molts during their first years of life before final size is reached at terminal molt. In the Bering Sea, reproductive maturity is reached at about 5-8 years of age at an average carapace width (CW) of 8.4 cm for males and 5.1 cm for females (www.nmfs.noaa.gov/fishwatch). Female snow crabs mature at smaller size in colder waters at higher latitudes and at larger size in warmer temperatures at lower latitudes (Jewett 1981). Snow crabs found in the Chukchi Sea are generally smaller than in the Eastern Bering Sea (mostly smaller than 5 cm CW), but crabs as large as 10 cm CW were recently found on the Beaufort Sea slope.
There is an urgent need for stock assessments of key Arctic marine species in light of increased interest in oil and gas development and climate change-related environmental shifts in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. The recent shifts in distribution of invertebrates and fishes in the sub-Arctic and Arctic are not only potential indicators of climate warming, but have also spurred interest in evaluating potential future Arctic fisheries and assessing risk associated with oil and gas activities. This requires sound background information on stock size and structure and reproductive condition.
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Links to snow crab information
Snow crab stock assessment through annual Eastern Bering Sea trawl surveys: http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/Kodiak/shellfish/crabEBS/crabsurvey.htm
Snow crab trawl survey database southern Gulf of St. Lawrence Canada: http://gcmd.nasa.gov/records/GCMD_OBIS.DFO_Gulf_SnowCrabSurveys.html
Biology and ecology of Atlantic snow crab: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/Science/publications/uww-msm/articles/snowcrab-crabedesneiges-eng.html
Ecology, fisheries and management of Bering Sea snow crab: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/fishwatch/species/snow_crab.htm
Snow crab in west Greenland: http://www.marine.ie/NR/rdonlyres/27790180-34A6-4B17-B9FA-91CEA5783EB3/0/Snowcrab07.pdf
Relatively new snow crab stock in the Barents Sea: http://www.barentsportal.com/barentsportal09/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=368&Itemid=268&lang=en
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