Supply problems and rising prices

The Bering Sea snow and king crab fishery has been shut down for the coming season and may even remain closed in 2022. This will mean much tighter supplies in the following year, and prices will rise even more. The Russian Federation, which is catching good amounts, is hindered in shipping product by the lack of containers.


The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in the beginning of September announced that the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery for 2021/22 would be closed. This was just the fourth time that this fishery has been closed, and the last time was in 1994.

The Total Allowable Catch (TAC) has been declining for several years. In the 2008/09 season, the TAC was 9 072 tonnes, falling to 2 994 tonnes in 2017/18, and further to just 1 724 tonnes in 2019/20 and 1 179 tonnes for the 2020/21 season. NMFS cited that the stock was below the regulatory threshold for opening a fishery as the reason for the closure.

The outlook in Alaska is not at all optimistic, as all the major crab stocks are down. The Bering Sea snow crab seems to have disappeared or moved somewhere else, so supplies of snow crab from Alaska will also be low.

While the outlook in the Bering Sea is bleak, the situation in the Gulf of Alaska is much more positive. Scientists have observed large amounts of Tanner crab in the area. Although the numbers are still very preliminary, scientists confirm that the minimum abundance threshold is met in all three fishing areas (Kodiak, Chignik and South Peninsula).

While supplies of king crab and snow crab from the North East Pacific are disappointing, the situation in the Barents Sea is much better. Both Norway and the Russian Federation are experiencing good catches.

Southeast Alaska crabbers are expecting an average Dungeness season this year. The summer season lasted for two and a half months from early June until mid-August. Total landed volume amounted to just over 1 360 tonnes, which was a considerable reduction compared to the 2020 catch of 2 722 tonnes. But the modest catches caused prices to soar to record levels of USD 4.27 per lb (USD 9.41 per kg).  

International trade

Global imports of crab have recovered from the slump in 2020. Total global imports grew from 163 963 tonnes during the first six months of 2020 to 191 473 tonnes (+ 16.8 percent) during the same period in 2021. The largest importers were the United States of America, China, and the Republic of Korea.

The Norwegian king crab fishery in the Barents Sea is performing well, and exports of this product have increased to record levels. Total exports of king crab from Norway during the first six months of 2021 amounted to 1 921 tonnes, of which 1 318 tonnes were live and 603 tonnes frozen. This represented an increase of 37.7 percent compared to the same period in 2020. Exports of snow crab showed an even more impressive growth: from 1 829 tonnes in 2020 to 4 372 tonnes in 2021 (+139 percent). Practically all of the snow crab exports were in frozen form.

Demand for snow crab and king crab is strong and growing, but the only large supplier in the market – the Russian Federation – is facing logistical problems. The shortage of containers to import the crabs is having a negative effect on Russian exports. The cost of freight is also a big problem, as rates have quadrupled lately. Moreover, at the other end of the line, there is a two to three week wait to offload on the US west coast. So snow crab and king crab are scarce, and they become very expensive with all the extra costs. Fortunately, a portion of the market, especially in the United States of America, is able and willing to pay these high prices.

Total US imports of crab during the first half of the year amounted to 70 383 tonnes, an increase of 18.5 percent compared to the first half of 2020. The largest suppliers were Canada, which accounted for over 50 percent of the total, followed by the Russian Federation (20 percent of the total), and Indonesia (9 percent of the total).

Russian crab exports to the United States of America are showing signs of healthy growth in 2021. During the first half of 2021, the Russian Federation had exported 7 300 tonnes, while total exports for 2020 amounted to 11 500 tonnes, which was just slightly more than in 2019, but 18.6 percent higher than in 2018.  

Russian exporters are now seeing an opportunity to fasten their grip on this market as supplies from the Bering Sea will be very tight in the coming season. With prices firm and demand growing on the US market, the Russians are in an excellent position to profit from this situation. Russian king crab stocks are healthy, and landings are expected to grow.

Chinese imports of crab during the first half of 2021 grew by a massive 54.7 percent to 39 781 tonnes. However, this was just 6.5 percent higher than imports during the first half of 2019. The largest suppliers were the Russian Federation, Indonesia, and the United States of America.

The price rises for fish, and in particular for high-end items like crab and lobster, has forced a number of restaurants in the United States of America to remove these items from their menus. Prices for many items have increased by 50 percent or more over the past quarter.

On the US market, prices for blue swimming crab (Portunas pelagicus) have risen dramatically and in early May reached the record level of USD 32.50 – USD 33.00 per lb. However, it did not stop there. In July prices jumped up again, to USD 39.75 – USD 40.25 per lb. Over the past six months, jumbo lump swimming crab prices rose by 67 percent.

On the other side of the Pacific, however, prices for blue swimming crab have fallen by 23 percent on the Korean market. Korean imports of cut swimming crabs fell by 20 percent during the month of July.


There will most likely be a serious shortage of king crab and snow crab in 2022, and perhaps even longer, as the Bering Sea fishery has been closed down. This shortage has already pushed prices up quite dramatically and will continue to do so over the coming year.

The Russian Federation is likely to take market shares from the United States of America on the king crab and snow crab markets during the coming months. Russian landings are looking good, and it is expected that catches in the Barents Sea will increase somewhat.

The outlook for the US west coast Dungeness crab catches is not too bright, and price increases must be expected for this product, too.

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