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Disappearance of Alaska snow crabs means some businesses might disappear, too

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NEWTOK, AK - JULY 01: Samuel John sits at the bow of his father's boat while heading out to go salmon fishing on July 1, 2015 in Newtok, Alaska. Newtok has a population of approximately of 375 ethnically Yupik people and was established along the shores of the Ninglick River, near where the river empties into the Bering Sea, by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in 1959. The Yupik people have lived on the coastal lands along the Bering Sea for thousands of years. As global temperatures rise the village is being threatened by the melting of permafrost, greater ice and snow melt and larger storms from the Bering Sea. According to the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, the highest elevated point in Newtok - the school - could be underwater by 2017. Approximately nine miles away, Mertarvik has been established, though families have been slow to relocate to the new village. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Local fishing around Alaska has felt the impact of billions of snow crabs missing from the surrounding waters. Andrew Burton/Getty Images

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Some seven billion snow crabs have disappeared from the waters around Alaska. Experts are still investigating the cause, but rapid warming in the Bering Sea is a likely factor. 

Alaska has canceled the snow crab harvesting season for the first time ever, and commercial crabbers and the economies that depend on the species stand to lose millions. 

Just a few years ago, Alaska’s snow crab population was booming. Jamie Goen with the industry group Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers said businesses were making big investments. 

“They were making improvements to their vessels, they were buying more quota to harvest.”

Now, Goen said some of those crabbing vessels won’t survive this canceled season. And there will be ripple effects. 

“All the support businesses around our vessels, so whether it’s shipyards, fuel docks, welders,” will feel the pinch too. 

Goen said federal aid should be available to commercial crabbers, similar to what’s offered to farmers who suffer crop failures. 

Chris Anderson, a fisheries economist at the University of Washington, is looking at this as a test case. 

“To try to understand what it looks like when climate change rears its head and really has a footprint on the fishery and what sort of adaptive strategies we can have,” he said.

Because as oceans warm, he said more fishing economies will have to adjust to these massive shifts. 

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