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Snow crab was predicted to become a gold mine for Norwegian fisheries. Then, Norwegian fishermen were denied access to the best fishing grounds, and things became rather quiet regarding the new Norwegian fishery. What happened to Norwegian snow crab? And does it still have a future in Norwegian fisheries?

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Anne-May Johansen  

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Yes, believe scientists at Nofima. They strongly believe that the crab with the delicious white meat can make a profitable industry. In a special edition of Nofima’s digital journal called ‘Economic Fishery Research’, scientists address the status, opportunities and challenges found in the entire value chain regarding the utilisation of snow crab.

Five articles deal with the history, different types of bait used in snow crab fishing, various heat treatment methods for snow crab clusters, management challenges related to a new resource, the profitability of Norwegian snow crab fishing, and opportunities for utilising valuable components from the residual raw material of snow crab.

“In the SnowMap research project, we have focused on key links in the Norwegian snow crab fishing value chain”, says scientist Gøril Voldnes.
The main goal of the project has been to acquire research-based knowledge about how snow crab can be best utilised.

“A lot of useful and interesting research remains to be done on this new species for Norway. We have several projects on the go and we strongly believe that this crab can be a profitable industry in the future”, says Gøril Voldnes.

In the research project SnowMap, the scientists at Nofima have focused on key links in the value chain for the Norwegian snow crab fishery. Photo: Marit Rein © Nofima

Snow crab is a cold-loving species of crab found in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, northern regions of the Pacific Ocean, and in recent years, the Barents Sea. Snow crab fishing has been taking place in Canada, Russia and Alaska since the 1930s, while commercial fishing for snow crab in the Barents Sea did not start until 2013. The crab has gradually reproduced and established itself in ever expanding areas of the Barents Sea.

At first, snow crab fishing was not regulated, and boats from Russia, the EU and Norway participated. However, in 2016 and 2017, boats from the EU and Norway respectively were ‘thrown out’ of the fishing grounds in the Russian-controlled area of the Barents Sea Loophole. It was confirmed that the snow crab is a sedentary species, which means that it stays in one place and is therefore a national resource. This meant the end of open fishing, and Norwegian vessels had to fish on the Norwegian continental shelf where crab density was much lower. As a result, snow crab catches decreased sharply. Neither 2017 nor 2018 saw the Norwegian quota of 4000 tonnes being met. However, 2019 was successful. In 2020, 8 Norwegian vessels were registered as actively fishing for snow crab.

Five topics relating to crab fishing are elaborated on in the ‘Economic Fishery Research’ articles. Here is the short version:

Bait

Bait constitutes a significant cost in crab fishing. Currently, the European flying squid is mainly used, which is an effective but expensive bait. Out on the fishing grounds, six different types of baits were tested in the SnowMap project, and cod entrails proved to work just as well as European flying squid when catching snow crab.

“Based on economic and ethical considerations, it is important to replace the current bait with alternative residual raw material sources that have little alternative use. The aim of the project was therefore to test alternative raw material sources that are cheaper and less suitable for human consumption”, says senior scientist Sten Siikavuopio.

Heat treatment

The edible part of the crab called the cluster (the meat in the legs and claws) is heat treated after the snow crab is slaughtered. Industrial heat treatment tends to involve a temperature above 95 degrees Celsius for up to 20 minutes. The main reason for the long period of heat treatment is to avoid a blue discoloration of the product.

“The aim of this study was to investigate the product characteristics at a slightly lower heat load. A lower heat load can be beneficial because it involves lower energy consumption, shorter processing time, and a higher yield”, explains senior scientist Grete Lorentzen.

The findings of alternative heat treatment indicate that a short period at high temperatures may be a future solution. However, further trials involving the optimisation of time and temperature are needed to determine whether this may be utilised as a future method of industrial boiling.

Management challenges

The term manageability has been used in the work on analysing the process of establishing the Norwegian management regime for snow crab fishing in the Barents Sea.

“When snow crab fishing started in Norway, very little was known about the crab, and it was unclear who would manage it and how. The analysis shows how a management regime has been gradually developed in line with necessary clarifications, knowledge acquisition and experience from the actual fishing. Over the course of seven years, the authorities have worked from an unmanageable to a manageable fishery”, says senior scientist Ingrid Kvalvik.

Profitability

Up until 2017, the Norwegian snow crab fleet had access to the attractive fishing grounds on the Russian part of the continental shelf in the Barents Sea Loophole. Russia then decided that the Norwegian fleet was not allowed access to these areas. In order to investigate the effect of this management change, the scientists calculated the CPUE (catch per unit effort) for the periods before and after the Norwegian exclusion.

“Together with income data and cost data for the fleet, the estimates suggest that the management change has had a significant negative economic effect on the Norwegian vessels. Furthermore, we are analysing realistic future scenarios for snow crab fishing, and in light of the scenarios we identify factors that could affect the future profitability of the fleet”, says doctoral research fellow Egil Hogrenning.

Residual raw materials

As part of the SnowMap project, the scientists also looked at the potential for adding value to residual raw material (shells and entrails) from snow crab. Several products have been produced. Based on the hydrolysis of shells with entrails, a maximum yield of 43.7 percent protein and 37.4 grams of fat per kilogram from the raw material was achieved.

“In order to assess commercial potential, the processes developed have been evaluated for scale-up potential and industrial production methods. In addition, opportunities to use existing demonstration facilities during the commercialisation phase were assessed”, says Head of Research Ragnhild Dragøy, who has also led the SnowMap project.