Tight supplies of king crab and blue crab, a little better for snow crab


The king crab resource in Alaska is not in good shape, and steps are being taken to reduce the fishery. Some harvesters are switching to golden king crab. Supplies of snow crab are better, though. Global trade in crabs is increasing again after a slight slump during the COVID-19 pandemic.


With landings of red king crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus) in Alaska declining, harvesters are turning to another species of king crab, the golden king crab (Lithodes aequispinus). It is slightly smaller than the red king crab, but has a very nice texture and taste. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has set the 2023 Aleutian Islands golden king crab total allowable catch (TAC) at 2 508 tonnes.

In January 2023, the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers (ABSC) proposed that a 4 000 square mile area west of Bristol Bay in the Eastern Bering Sea should be closed to all fishing gear types from January to June in order to protect the red king crab. Fishing for this species was cancelled for the 2022 – 2023 season due to the state of the resource. However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  (NOAA) refused to do so and referred to the “normal regulatory process” of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC).

The Norwegian research organization Nofima is now making trials to raise the red king crab in captivity. According to researchers, they are making good progress in understanding how to make the crab thrive in captivity, and if they succeed, this could create a whole new aquaculture industry in the very north of Norway.

In April, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) increased the snow crab quota in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence by 8.3 percent to 35 216 tonnes. This followed a 34 percent increase in TAC from 2021 to 2022. 

While snow crab harvesters in Newfoundland were holding back on their fishing efforts because of the price dispute they had with the processors in April and May, harvesters in the Southern Gulf of Saint Lawrence were landing  good catches of snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio). Between 11 April and 19 May, they landed over 25 000 tonnes of the species, or 80 percent of the snow crab quota of 31 467 tonnes.

A new survey from the US state of Maryland indicates that the blue crab resource in the Chesapeake Bay may be in good shape. A report published by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources found a population of 323 million blue crabs in the Bay in 2023, an increase of 40 percent compared to the 227 million crab found in 2022. The increasing numbers registered in 2023 are not likely to lead to any significant increase in quotas, however.

Reports from Alaska indicate that the Dungeness crab fishery is performing well, with landed volumes up compared to 2023. However, the abundance of product has put pressure on prices, which are way down compared to last year. The overall ex-vessel price during 2023 was just USD 2.55 per pound, well below the overall average of USD 5.08 per pound in 2022.


The snow crab harvesters and processors in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador got into a prolonged dispute about ex-vessel prices at the start of the season. The harvesters refused to accept the low prices offered by the processors, and in protest refused to go fishing. The dispute was finally solved in May, but by then, the harvesters had lost the opportunity to catch large amounts of snow crab.

At the beginning of June, Newfoundland and Labrador snow crab prices were finally moving upwards again. Wholesale prices increased by some 4 percent to about USD 4.85 – 5.05 per pound. Prices continued to creep upwards through June.

Larger size snow crab is still in short supply in the Newfoundland and Labrador region, pushing prices for these sizes further up. As of mid-June, about 30 percent of the TAC (16 615 tonnes) had been landed. The TAC for the season is 54 840 tonnes.

Canadian snow crab traders are set to securing snow crab inventory during the summer, as they believe demand in the United States of America will grow. At the same time, supplies appear to be slower than last year. The 2023 season was set for a very good yield, but the prolonged price negotiations in Newfoundland and Labrador caused harvesters to hold back on fishing, and as much as 30 000 tonnes of snow crab may have been left uncaught in the water. Thus, supplies are much tighter than anticipated.

The summer is usually high season for sales of blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) in the US state of Maryland. But this year, very high prices have put a damper on demand. Last year, a scarcity of blue crab from Chesapeake Bay pushed prices up, and this year, higher shipping costs are contributing to the high prices. In addition, inflation is apparently reducing the consumer purchasing power.

International trade

Global imports of crab (all types) increased by 7.8 percent during the first quarter of 2023 compared to the first quarter of 2022. Total imports amounted to 94 121 tonnes, and the largest importers were China (26 063 tonnes), the Republic of Korea (15 376 tonnes) and the United States of America (15 137 tonnes).

China’s crab imports grew by over 25 percent to 26 063 tonnes. The largest suppliers were the Russian Federation (7 222 tonnes or 27.7 percent of the total), Canada (3 630 tonnes) and Myanmar (3 430 tonnes).

US imports of crab during the first quarter of 2023 fell by 26.9 percent compared to the first quarter of 2022, from 20 714 tonnes in 2022 to 15 137 tonnes in 2023. The largest suppliers were Canada, Indonesia and China.

During the first quarter of 2023, US imports of red swimming crab from China dropped by 60 percent compared to the same period in 2022, to just 476 tonnes. The value dropped even more: down 75 percent to USD 6.5 million.

US imports of fresh blue crab from Venezuela dropped by over 40 percent during this period, from 1 200 tonnes in 2022 to just 505 tonnes in 2023.

China’s exports of crab during this period also grew, from 10 410 tonnes during the first quarter of 2022 to 12 812 tonnes during the same period of 2023. The largest markets of the Chinese product were the Republic of Korea, Malaysia and the United States of America.

Russian crab exports during the first quarter of the year grew by 8 percent, from 15 763 tonnes in 2022 to 17 036 tonnes in 2023. Over 42 percent of this (7 222 tonnes) went to China, while almost 36 percent (6 104 tonnes) went to the Republic of Korea.


Supplies of king crab will continue to be tight, while the situation is expected to be somewhat better for snow crab as Canadian quotas have been increased. However, landings in Newfoundland and Labrador were late getting started, and the supply situation became tighter than it could have been. In an effort to increase supplies, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in mid-July announced that it extended the snow crab season until the end of July. The supply of Dungeness crab on the North American west coast appears to be good.

Canada continues to consolidate its position as the main supplier of king crab and snow crab to Asian as well as European markets. Increased trade is expected but prices may rise, partly as a result of global inflation.

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