Snow crab is a relatively new species for the Norwegian seafood industry. The aim of this project has been to contribute towards a sustainable crab fishery in the future and to make the best possible use of this new resource.

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Snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio) is a cold-loving species found in the north-western Atlantic, the northern Pacific Ocean and in recent years in the Barents Sea as well.

Norway started fishing snow crab in the Barents Sea in 2013. However, landings from Norwegian boats have varied considerably. The 4,000-tonne quota which was set in June 2017 was not fished in 2017 or 2018 due to low availability of these crabs, but in 2019 a total of 4,037 tonnes was caught. In 2020 eight Norwegian vessels were recorded as being actively engaged in fishing, primarily involving cooked clusters (legs and shoulders) which are frozen onboard.


During this multidisciplinary research project, we have been studying various key links in the value chain for snow crab fishery in the Barents Sea, ranging from catching, live storage, processing, residual raw materials, resource management and marketing. The main aim of this project has been to obtain knowledge in order to make the best possible use of this new Norwegian resource.


During our work on optimising catches the researchers have explored the use of lights and different types of pots for fishing snow crab.

In one study conducted in the Barents Sea the researchers discovered that crab catches could be increased by up to 12% by mounting lights inside the pots. However, the financial benefits of this are dubious due to the investment costs involved.
We have also conducted behavioural studies on snow crab by using today’s conical crab pots which turned out to be ineffective. Only a small percentage of the crabs which were attracted to the pots ended up being caught, and the pots caught undersized crabs.

A number of different new pot designs have been tested, but the results show that we still need to make pots which are more effective for catching snow crabs and simultaneously protect small crabs.

Live storage

We have also focussed on the storage of live snow crabs. Our research shows that snow crabs are very robust, social animals which can be stored alive for at least two months in temperatures ranging from around 1 to 5oC, without being fed, without their muscle quality being affected and without increased mortality rates. The challenge is that it is easy to damage snow crabs during catch handling and live storage.

Snow crabs have the same good biological prerequisites as king crabs for being sold alive in markets where live seafood is preferred, e.g. Asia, if this is done in the right way.


The aim of the research conducted on processing snow crabs was to investigate how their quality is affected by processing, i.e. cooking, freezing, freezing time, thawing and cold storage. The cooking regimen (time and temperature), freezing method (brine or blast freezing), frozen storage time and thawing methods (in water or air) are important factors for the durability of the product (cluster), drip loss (liquid loss) and extent of discolouration (bluing).

The blue discolouration is only of aesthetic importance. There are no food safety issues involved in eating such products. During this project, a method for objectively determining the extent of blue discolouration was developed.

Residual raw materials

In order to ensure the sustainable production of snow crab, we have identified products and technological solutions which could contribute to adding value of the residual raw materials. We have tested different processing alternatives in order to extract protein, astaxanthin and chitin (in the shell-fraction), and we have worked to optimise a multi-phase process designed to ensure the full utilisation of commercially interesting components in the residual raw materials.

We have also calculated the cost of investments and operations (CAPEX/OPEX) and investigated possible markets for the sale of various products.


Snow crab is a new species for the Norwegian seafood industry, which to date have invested in exports of cooked and frozen clusters to markets where they are subject to strong competition from well-established suppliers such as Russia and Canada.

In 2019 the USA and Japan were the largest markets for Norwegian snow crab. Studies in the USA revealed that Norwegian snow crab was chosen because it was cheapest. This is not a desirable position. Further, Russia has a competitive advantage because it can deliver live snow crabs directly by boat to countries like South Korea, which is a large crab market with a high preference for live seafood.

In 2019, 1,109 tonnes of snow crabs was exported from Norway, but only in a frozen state. The pioneers of Norwegian snow crab fishing have taken a huge investment risk and the fleet has currently limited opportunities for making new investments aimed at bringing live raw materials ashore. Onshore production could have improved the conditions for product development and innovation, and for ensuring the best possible care of the residual raw materials.

China is emerging as an exciting market for Norwegian snow crab, and in this respect, we have been investigating possibilities and challenges related to market access for Norwegian seafood into China.

Management and profitability

Good management and profitability in the Norwegian snow crab fishery are important prerequisites for sustaining the snow crab as a permanent Norwegian resource.

When the snow crab fishery was initiated in the Barents Sea, there existed very little knowledge about the species, both with respect to the stocks and this type of fishery. Furthermore, international legislation was unclear about who was entitled to fish and how to manage the snow crab. Snow crab has now been defined as a sedentary species. Sedentary means it is dependent on having constant contact with the seabed in order to move, and that its management is determined by continental shelf ownership. The majority of the snow crabs are present in the Russian part of Smutthullet (the Barents Sea loophole) and are thus under Russian continental shelf jurisdiction.

During this project we have studied how the authorities, in cooperation with research, industry and those countries affected, have developed their knowledge and made the necessary clarifications in order to ensure sustainable management of snow crab fishery.

We have studied the economic performance of the Norwegian snow crab fleet by making catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) estimates. In our study we have compared CPUE for catches taken before and after exclusion from the Russian part of Smutthullet (January 2017). The estimates were used in a model which also includes income and cost data describing the industry. Our analysis indicates that the exclusion has had a negative impact on the profitability of the fleet. We have also explored possible future scenarios for the Norwegian snow crab fishery and factors which can have an impact on the fleet’s future profitability.

We still have a lot of exciting research to conduct on this new species for Norway. We have several projects on the go and we strongly believe that this crab could be a profitable industry in the future.


In addition, the following publications:

Application of Luminescent Netting in Traps to Improve the Catchability of the Snow Crab Chionoecetes opilio. Marine and Coastal Fisheries, vol. 11, p. 295 – 304

Effect of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) on snow crab catch rates in the Barents Sea pot fishery. ICES Journal of Marine Science, vol. 76, p. 1893 – 1901

The SnowMap research has also been mentioned several times in Norwegian and international media.