National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2021

Climate change and the future productivity and distribution of crab in the Bering Sea

Szuwalski, C., W. Cheng, R. Foy, A.J. Hermann, A. Hollowed, K. Holsman, J. Lee, W. Stockhausen, and J. Zheng

ICES J. Mar. Sci., fsaa140, doi: 10.1093/icesjms/fsaa140, View online (2020)

Crab populations in the eastern Bering Sea support some of the most valuable fisheries in the United States, but their future productivity and distribution are uncertain. We explore observed changes in the productivity and distribution for snow crab, Tanner crab, and Bristol Bay red king crab. We link historical indices of environmental variation and predator biomass with observed time series of centroids of abundance and extent of crab stock distribution; we also fit stock–recruit curves including environmental indices for each stock. We then project these relationships under forcing from global climate models to forecast potential productivity and distribution scenarios. Our results suggest that the productivity of snow crab is negatively related to the Arctic Oscillation (AO) and positively related to ice cover; Tanner crab’s productivity and distribution are negatively associated with cod biomass and sea surface temperature. Aspects of red king crab distribution and productivity appear to be related to bottom temperature, ice cover, the AO, and/or cod biomass. Projecting these relationships forward with available forecasts suggests that Tanner crab may become more productive and shift further offshore, red king crab distribution may contract and move north, and productivity may decrease for snow crab as the population contracts northward.

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