It has long been thought that the rapid spread of enormous king crabs in Norwegian waters, viewed as both a delicacy and a plague, would leave the coast barren and beaches dangerous. In a new study from the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research (IMR), researchers say the envisioned crisis has been averted.
The first king crabs turned up in fjords in east Finnmark during the early nineties, and have become a profitable industry for local fisherman. Quota restrictions on the species in Canada and Alaska have brought prices up and at times crab fisherman have been able to charge up to NOK 200 (USD 37) per kilo. Fully grown males can weigh in at 12 kilos, and span 1,5 meters between their front claws.
It has been thought that the crabs were rapidly spreading further south and west. When researchers placed 200 crab pots along the sea floor in 70 different spots west of Nordkapp in Finnmark, they only came up with 16 crabs, the average harvest from a single crab pot for fishermen east in the county. This would indicate that either the spread has been less severe than originally thought, or that government-mandated overfishing to regulate the population has been a successful measure.
For the Norwegian government, the king crab has been both a curse and a blessing. Demand is high for the delicacy and it has long been the most lucrative harvest in the Norwegian fishing industry, but introducing a species to a foreign eco-system can cause problems. The crabs devour vegetation on the sea floor and cause problems for other types of fishing by destroying nets.
Not everyone agrees
“Measures implemented to reduce spreading have had great effect,” Jan H. Sundet, senior researcher at IMR told newspaper Aftenposten, but members of the Norwegian Fishermen Association (Norges Fiskarlag) are skeptical to the new findings. “Based on reports we get from our fishermen in Western Finnmark and Troms, the crabs are spreading unimpeded further south and west.” Reidar Nilsen, head of the association told Aftenposten.
Nilsen does indicate that spread has not been as expected in the area west of Nordkapp, but warns that the crab could still cause tremendous issues in the region and encourages the Norwegian government to implement extinction fishing in more areas. “Crabs don’t follow paved roads, they spread, and are not likely to wait for researchers to track them before creating major issues in both Troms and Nordland.”
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