Tighter supplies, prices keep rising

Quotas for snow crab are being cut in Canada but increased in Alaska. The overall supply situation will be tighter in 2019. It might be very tight for king crab and the Alaska red king crab fishery may be totally closed.


Newfoundland and Labrador crabbers fear that the TAC for 2019 will be drastically cut. The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) released the final TAC numbers in early April. The TAC for Newfoundland and Labrador was cut by 9 percent to 28?975 tonnes. On the west coast of the North American continent, the situation looks brighter. The Alaska snow crab TAC for 2019 was increased by 47 percent to 12?620 tonnes. Though this is not much compared to the Canadian fishery, it reveals a positive trend. Biomass surveys in 2018 showed that the snow crab stock is improving. If this trend continues, the TAC may be further increased in 2020 and 2021.

Since 2014, there has been a decline in supplies of snow crab to the Japanese market. The main supplier is the Russian Federation and shipments from this source have declined slightly, while supplies from Canada have dropped markedly. Last year was one of the best years in the last decade for the Alaska Dungeness crab (Metacarcinus magister) fishery. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, 771 tonnes of Dungeness crab were caught during the autumn season, compared to the average 340 tonnes over the past ten years. 1?850 tonnes were landed during the spring and autumn season.

International trade

Global imports of crab (all types) increased slightly (+1.8 percent) in 2018, to 405?400 tonnes. Imports into the United States of America dropped by 3.3 percent to 104?400 tonnes, while Chinese imports grew slightly to 81?900 tonnes. Imports into the Republic of Korea also grew, from 45?400 tonnes to 50?100 tonnes (+10.4 percent). Shipments to the United States of America dropped from Canada and increased from the Russian Federation. Russian Federation crab exports increased by almost 10 percent, and the main markets were the Republic of Korea (43?000 tonnes or 61 percent of the total), the Netherlands (12?800 tonnes or 18 percent of the total) and China (11?500 tonnes or 16 percent of the total). China’s crab exports fell slightly to 72?600 tonnes in 2018, from 75?000 in 2017. The main markets were the Republic of Korea, the United States of America and Taiwan Province of China.


Snow crab prices have been high because of limited supplies. In the United States of America, high prices and low supplies have translated in fewer retail promotions. Even so, snow crab is by far the most important crab product in the US food service industry, accounting for 50 percent of the total volume and 40 percent of the total value. Japanese import prices for snow crab from North America and the Russian Federation were at record levels just before New Year. Frozen snow crab legs from Alaska reached JPY 2?100 (USD 19.21) per kg, twice the price registered five years ago.


Snow crab supplies are likely to decline in 2019, in spite of the increased TAC in Alaska. US supplies have been declining steadily since 2015, mainly as a result of lower supplies from Canada. Russian Federation exports to the United States of America have increased slightly, but not enough to offset the overall decline. US supplies of king crab are decreasing due to the lower TACs in Alaska and the reduced shipments from the Russian Federation. The Russian Federation is shipping more of its red king crab live to China and the Republic of Korea. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game reduced the Bristol Bay king crab quota to 1?950 tonnes for the 2018/2019 season, down from 2?994 tonnes in the 2017/2018 season. There is now apprehension that the Alaska king crab fishery might be suspended altogether in 2019. If so, it would probably remain closed through 2020 and 2021. While supplies from the Far East and the Barents Sea have been growing for the past few years, in 2019 they are expected to stagnate. Thus, the king crab supply situation could be quite tight in 2019.