TROMSØ: Since the first five specimens of snow crab were found in the Barents Sea in 1996, the population has exploded. There is now ten times as much snow crab than king crab in the area, and scientists are just starting to find out how this new species has adopted to life in the Barents Sea.
Norwegian and Russian scientists have been monitoring the population of snow crab in the Barents Sea since 2004. They have found that the snow crab is no competitor to the king crab. “It seems like the snow crab has occupied a niche in the ecosystem where there probably used to be several different species, “says Jan Henry Sundet, Senior Researcher at the Institute of Marine Research.
During the latest resource mission to the Barents Sea in 2013-2014, the scientists found large amounts of young crabs, which implies that the recruitment to the population is very good.
The first crabs in the Barents Sea were found on the Goose Bank west of Novaya Zemlya in 1996. The scientists are not sure where the crabs come from – they can have migrated here naturally, or they can have been brought here in ballast water. The original native areas for the snow crab are the Bering Strait and the coasts of eastern Canada and western Greenland. Russian scientists have found crabs in the Chukchi Sea, Eastern Siberian Sea, Laptev Sea and Kara Sea.
Scientists have compared DNA from the snow crab in the Barents Sea with snow crabs from Canada and Greenland and concluded that they do not come from that area. There has not yet been made any comparison between crabs from the Barents Sea and the Bering Strait, but the scientist says it’s “probable, but not certain,” that they come from there. “The snow crab shows a classical development of an alien, invasive species”, Sundet says. “After the first specimens have been found, you have a long period where very little is happening and then you get an explosion in the population”. In the Barents Sea the explosion in the population came in 2012.