Most snow crab consumed in the US is imported, with 80% coming from Canada. Best-quality, high-price snow crab comes from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where some Canadian processors use cryogenic freezers that produce a superior product, but most of this crab goes to the Japanese market. Most snow crab sections will be packed with some broken legs in the box and should be checked for excess glaze and broken pieces—the industry standard for broken pieces is 10%. Snow crabs are usually sold as sections or “clusters” (4 walking legs and a claw arm), typically graded 3/5 oz., 5/8 oz. and 8 ups; with 5/8 oz. sections compromising the bulk of the production. The meat yield from snow crab is about 17% compared to approximately 25% in king and Dungeness. The dirty brown barnacle-covered shells of older snow crab shells may look unappetizing but can have higher meat content, making them a good bargain, according to some buyers.
Scientists with NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center annually survey the Bering Sea crab stocks to estimate their abundance. NOAA Fisheries and the State of Alaska use this information to determine the status of the stocks and to set the harvest limits for the following fishing season.
Scientists use model estimates of the number of mature males in the population (mature male biomass) at the time of mating as the measure for population status of snow crab. Mature male biomass has increased since its low in 2002, and is currently estimated to be at a sustainable level.
Tanner crab are found in the North Pacific and have medium inherent vulnerability to fishing pressure. They are primarily fished in Alaska, in the eastern Bering Sea. Tanner crab were previously overfished but a 2011 stock assessment showed that the fishery had recovered. However, the fishery remained closed until the 2013-2014 fishing year. Seafood Watch reported in late 2015 that the stock was in good standing.
Habitat impacts ( Wild)
The gear commonly used to catch Tanner crab tends to consist of large steel mesh traps or pots that soak on the seafloor for one to three days. Gear effects from pots tend to be minimal in the Tanner crab fisheries since they are usually set in soft, muddy habitats, according to Seafood Watch. Such sand and silt environments are less likely to be affected than harder habitats.
A Seafood Watch report from 2015 found that bycatch in the Tanner crab fishery is limited to female and undersized male snow and Tanner crabs. Other bycatch, including groundfish, was very low and did not include any threatened, endangered or overfished species.
Tanner crab are managed under a federal fisheries management plan overseen by the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council that is jointly managed by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Measures include robust scientific monitoring, annual stock assessments, vessel monitoring systems, and strong stakeholder inclusion. Seafood Watch noted that the management has been able to successfully rebuild the fishery from its overfished status and called it highly effective.