While 31 Alaskan boats competed for a 2.1 million-pound red king crab quota in 2023, after two years without a season, Norwegian fishermen are building boats and fishing year-round on king crab, which is an invasive species in the waters of Northern Europe. “The Norwegians call them Stalin’s Crabs,” says Jason Fontes, owner of Integrity Machining Inc. in Seattle.

In the 1930s, Josef Stalin, then leader of the USSR, had the idea of transplanting king crabs from the Bering Sea in Russia’s Far East, to the Barents Sea in Europe. His motives are a matter of conjecture—it may have been to get a fishery going, or to have a fresher supply of crab for Moscow, or to help ensure food security for the people—but it doesn’t matter because it didn’t work. The crabs all died on the overland journey across the vastness of Russia. Nikita Khruschev, Stalin’s successor revived the project, and a Soviet team successfully stocked the Barent’s Sea with King Crab. According to an article by Heiner Kubny in the Polar Journal, biologist Yuri Orlov released 1.5 million king crab larvae into the Barents Sea in 1961. “Orlov also dumped into the Arctic Ocean about 10,000 one-to-three-year-old crabs by 1969,” Kubny writes. “Authorities also added about 2,600 adult specimens.”

Russian and Norwegian fishermen harvest king crab in a strictly regulated fishery in the Barents Sea, east of Nordkapp, the northern tip of Norway. But the crabs are spreading west and south and were being caught off the coast of England in 2022. Integrity Machining owner, Jason Fontes reports that most of his sales of new crab pot haulers are going to equip Norwegian boats being built especially for the crab fishery. “We built a 44-inch diameter hauler for them,” he says. “It’s set up horizontally.” Fontes notes that the Norwegians need the big powerful hauler because they fish multiple traps on a line.

The crabs are seen as a threat to many other species, such as cod, herring, and capelin, to name just a few. The Norwegian government wants to eradicate the invasive crabs and has declared open season on them west of Nordkapp. In what they call the free-fishing area it is illegal to throw a crab back in the water, no matter what size. East of the Cape, Norway has an agreement with Russian to conserve the resource. “The government wants to get rid of the crabs,” says Fontes. “We supplied haulers and other deck gear for nine boats so far.”

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Paul Molyneaux is the Boats & Gear editor for National Fisherman.

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