Sea ice is encroaching unusually early on the central Bering Sea, threatening to grind Alaska's economically important snow crab fishery to a halt at the peak of the season, leaving crabbers facing major losses.
Earlier-than-expected ice is moving south over prime crabbing grounds, forcing boats away from their catch and putting millions of dollars of equipment in jeopardy.
These kind of "mother nature effects" are part of the fishing business everywhere, said Karen Gillis, the executive director of the Bering Sea Fishermen's Association.
But this fishery, which was expected to net 80 million pounds this year, hasn't seen a natural event like this in 20 years, she said, and it could have a devastating economic impact on crabbers and their families.
"We're talking about household incomes that are being severely impacted, households that don't have a lot of other income sources," Gillis said.
Crabbing boats are out retrieving their pots or sitting in Dutch Harbor rather than delivering their catch to the now iced-in Trident Seafoods processing plant on St. Paul, said Edward Poulson, an advisor for the Bering Sea Crabbers Association and longtime crabber.