GLOBEFISH - Information and Analysis on World Fish Trade

Tighter supplies of king and snow crab


The Bering Sea crab stocks are not increasing as fast as expected. Supplies have become tighter because of growing demand, and prices are going up.


The biomass of snow crab in the Bering Sea is increasing, but at a slower pace than previously anticipated, according to the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. The new quota for 2020 will be set by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in mid-October. The quota is expected to increase compared to this year.

Tanner crab is not in such good shape. Total allowable catch (TAC) for tanner crab has been reduced over the past couple of years, from 1 134 tonnes in 2017 to 1 089 tonnes in 2018.

Supplies of blue crab in the Chesapeake Bay are tight at the moment, and the prices are high. A new suggests that blue crab will be more numerous in the future. It is quoted as being “the climate change winner in the Chesapeake Bay”, because the water is getting warmer and winter periods when water temperatures are below 50 degrees Fahrenheit are getting shorter. During these periods, blue crab goes into its dormant mode, when it does not eat. If the dormant mode periods get shorter or disappear altogether, blue crab would multiply in this region. As the blue crab is a prolific predator, the stocks of fish and other crustaceans in the Bay might be reduced.


There was a slight increase in global imports of crab (all types) during the first six months of 2019 compared to the same period in 2018. Total imports increased from 186 200 tonnes to 190 800 tonnes (+2.5 percent). The largest increase was registered for the Republic of Korea, which increased its imports by 31.3 percent to 27 000 tonnes. China remained the largest importer, accounting for 60 200 tonnes or 31.6 percent of the total.

US imports of crab during the first half of the year went up slightly (+1.2 percent) to 60 200 tonnes, mainly supplied by Canada and the Russian Federation.

Crab is an item that the United States of America have imposed a punitive import tariff for China. In Late August, US President Trump announced that he was planning to increase this tariff from 10 percent to 35 percent.

The Russian Federation, which has been a major supplier to China and the Republic of Korea, saw a slight decline in its exports during the first half of 2019, when the export volume fell to 28 800 tonnes in 2019 from 30 500 tonnes during the same period in 2018. The most important market for the Russian Federation is the Republic of Korea, which is also the main market for Chinese crab exports. Chinese crab exports fell by 15.8 percent to 25 900 tonnes during review period, half of these exports went to the Republic of Korea.

In 2018, Norway exported almost 2 000 tonnes of king crab, mostly live, at an FOB value of NOK 575 million (USD 64 million). The main markets were China, the Republic of Korea, the United States of America and the EU28. During the first six months of 2019, Norwegian fresh king crab exports fell by a marginal 1 percent to 495 tonnes with an FOB value of NOK 142.6 million, compared to 501 tonnes during the first six months of 2018, FOB value of NOK 132.8 million. In addition, Norway exported 330 tonnes of frozen king crab and 1 218 tonnes of frozen snow crab during this period.


Record prices for exported king crab from Norway have been reported in August. Although the exported volume fell by 20 percent during the first six months, the value of exports fell only by 13 percent. King crab prices both in the United States of America and in Japan have been climbing upwards, but they now seem to have stagnated a bit.


The Russian Federation is planning to renew its crab fishing fleet through an auction system. According to the Russian Federation fishery law, the Federal Fishery Agency Rosrybolovstvo has to auction 50 percent of the country’s crab fishing quotas between 2019 and 2020. Companies that win quotas in the auction have to build new crab vessels within five years of being awarded the quota. It is expected that 31 new vessels will be built for the Far Eastern fishery and 10 vessels for the Northern fishery. The price for the quotas is almost USD 2 billion.

Supplies of king crab and snow crab will remain tight, especially in relation to demand, which is on the rise all over the world. With the renewal of the Russian Federation crab fleet, supplies may improve over the next five years, provided the fishery is managed sustainably. Trade between the United States of America and China continues to be difficult due to the trade war. China is now buying crab from a number of suppliers other than the United States of America, and prices for king crab are high, and expected to go even higher. Other Asian countries, and especially the Republic of Korea, will import more of these northern crabs in the future.

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