An Amazing Story: Red King Crab Introduced to Barents Sea

50 years later, crab supports a lucrative fishery, but little is known of its ecological impacts

red king crab

Introduced to the Barents Sea in 1960s, the red king crab is now the region’s most lucrative fishery. Photo courtesy Mikhail Pereladov, VNIRO Institute

I have watched innumerable episodes of the TV show “The Deadliest Catch”, the story of Alaskan crab fishermen who risk their lives to bring this delicious prized catch to our tables. However, I had no idea that a large fishery had developed in the Barents Sea based on an introduced species.

In order to increase the “productivity” of the Barents Sea, the Soviet Union decided to introduce these crabs thousands of miles from their native home in the Pacific. In the early 1960s thousands of adult crabs and more than a million crab larvae were released in their prospective new home. At first, the effort seemed like a failure. But by the 1970s egg bearing crabs were found and the population expanded rapidly.

An experimental fishery was begun in 1994 and landings have grown dramatically since. It is now the most lucrative fishery in the Barents Sea, harvested by both Russian and Norwegian fishermen. By 2006, Seafood Business magazine reported there were fears that Russian king crab imports would flood the U.S. market. In 2005, 91% of the 42 million pounds of king crab imported to the U.S. were from Russia (Russia also has a major fishery in the Bering Sea).

The red king crab can live for up to 30 years and grow to a leg span of two yards. The average size of crab landed in the Barents Sea is about 6 pounds. No one really knows what the eventual ecology consequences of this introduced species will be.

map showing location of the Barents Sea

The Barents Sea lies north of Scandinavia and Russia. Source: Wikipedia

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