The environmental danger of king crab

King Crab

While King Crab from Norway is gaining notoriety worldwide, its presence has some scientists worried about how much this foreign species has off-balanced the biodiversity of the Norwegian Barents Sea. Part two of our two part King Crab Series.


It’s certain king crab in the Norwegian Barents Sea is a great economic force, but what is the foreign crawler doing to its new environment?

- We got some results saying there were quite big changes in the sea floor, said Eva Degre, head of the marine division at the Norwegian Directorate for Nature.

The king crab was brought into the Norwegian Barents Sea in the 1960s by Soviet scientists, and since then, the population has grown immensely. Some estimates say there are more than 20 million in the Barents Sea. Many environmentalists and scientists say the species negatively alters the sea’s natural biodiversity.

The Norwegian World Wildlife Fund is concerned about impacts on the coastal ecosystem along the Barents coast, especially since adult King Crab have no natural predators.

The consequence of the king crab explosion may be that native species disappear, said Degre. Sea creatures like urchins, star fish and analids, which live under the ocean floor sediment, have already been reduced, she said, and these sorts of changes are unnoticeable to the average citizen.

At the same time, the king crab has revitalized some local economies and is putting Norway’s name on the map across the globe.

- Some 40 years ago Soviet scientists gave a big, big present to Norway … a big amount of regions are earning money on it and quite serious money, big infrastructure has developed since this species became marketable, said Roman Vasiliev, a crustacean scientist with the Russian Federal Agency for Fisheries.

There may have been some changes to the Norwegian Barents Sea, said Vasiliev, but now those effects have stabilized.

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- When introducing a new species we have to be careful, but in my opinion nature will more or less stabilize everything and we can see it now in Barents Sea, he said. We have to remember that king crab is a high demand species and the catch price is very, very high.

According to the Norwegian Department of Fisheries, king crab is in fact a highly valuable product. In 2009 the total first-hand value of Norwegian landings reached about NOK 126 millions.

Nonetheless, even if the effect of the king crab has stabilized or will stabilize, the fact that the ecosystem has changed is a negative outcome, said Degre.

- Our advice is to try and keep the level of king crab as low as possible by fishing, she said. There’s no other way to get rid of it now, it can’t be taken away unfortunately.

King crab fishing in the Barents Sea began experimentally in 1994, with a quota of eleven thousand crabs in both the Norwegian and Russian zones, stated the Norwegian Department of Fisheries. The quota increased during the 1990s and in 2002, the Norwegian king crab fishery became commercial with vessel-quotas. In 2004, Russia introduced a licensed commercial fishery. Currently, king crab is managed by a White Paper adopted by the Norwegian Parliament in 2008.

Written by Margaret Cappa

Click here to read the story of the king crab in Bugoynes in part one of our series.