Crabbing in the High North

The BarentsObserver takes a closer look at the local crabbing industry - and even gets a tasty lunch out of it.


King crab, though not indigenous to northern Norway, has become a species for which the area is known.

Introduced by the Soviet Union to the Barents Sea in the 1960s, the spiky crustacean took to its new habitat like, well, a fish to water.

It’s not uncommon to peer over a dock here and see at least a dozen of the crabs crawling along in the shallows, scavenging any and everything they can find.

In other oceans king crabs are a rare catch. In the Barents Sea it’s almost a given that you’ll get at least a few medium sized ones if you lay a trap and likely that you’ll probably snag a big one.

The king crabs’ appetite for anything from algae to fish meat is, in part, what has made the species thrive in the Barents Sea. Their adaptability makes them a formidable presence in any environment.

King crab caught in the Barents Sea.

Fifty years ago the Soviets were keen to import the king crabs to the waters outside the Kola Peninsula.

You can find them at almost any depth in the Barents Sea – either skimming the shallows or “podding” at some of the deepest points, where it is not uncommon to find hundreds of crabs clumped together in a feeding frenzy.

These pods give a window into how much the population has exploded and taken over the ecosystem here. The king crabs are now migrating further south, some scientists estimate at a rate of 50km per year, and a few have even reached the pristine and remote Arctic island of Svalbard way up in the northern reaches of the Barents Sea.

Despite the crab’s prevalence in the High North region, it is considered a delicacy and is one of the most expensive types of seafood, per kilo, to buy. Crabbing is a highly regulated industry in Norway and noncommercial fisherman are only supposed to take ten male crabs per year as their quota.

With a kilo of king crab meat fetching around 350 kroner, the commercial crabbing industry in Norway has become a lucrative business. Norwegian king crabs are exported as far as Shanghai and the sector rakes in over 60 million kroner a year.