Juneau restaurant hit by Bristol Bay king crab season shutdown, prices soar
Tracy’s King Crab Shack has served Alaskan King Crab below market price for years, bbut the restaurant is no longer capable of it. Owner Tracy LaBarge said prices have gone up 100%.
“It’s not a small increase. That’s double what it was in 2019. So it’s been hard to come to terms with, ”LaBarge said.
Crab shortages and inflation are hitting seafood restaurants across the country.
These crab shortages are caused by multiple factors. One of the biggest in Alaska is that there just aren’t that many crabs. This year all major crab stocks in Bristol Bay were low, not just king crab.
Forrest Bowers manages the commercial fishery for the Alaska Department of Fisheries and Game. He said the number of mature male and female crabs has been declining for years.
Mature crabs are the ones that breed, and over the past 12 years, fewer and fewer crabs have reached this age.
“You know, in general, the reasons that productivity can be lower is that the environmental conditions are unfavorable,” Bowers said.
Bowers said there are many factors that come into play that can impact crab populations.
Environmental conditions could be linked to the effects of climate change – such as warming water temperatures or ocean acidification – or linked to food scarcity or predators. Fishing and bycatch can also have an impact on the crab stock.
The end result of this declining trend in crab stocks is that Fish and Game has closed the red king crab season in Bristol Bay, and this closure had a direct effect impact on the LaBarge restaurant.
“That’s kind of what we’re proud of, it was always buying king crab from Alaska, that king crab from Bristol Bay,” LaBarge said. “So this is kind of the first time we’ve had to, you know, buy Russian crab or Norwegian crab, basically, just to stay in business. Because the crab season is closed.
Next season, she will have other Alaskan crabs, such as Dungeness, snow or Tanner. But not the Bristol Bay king crab.
And there is still a strong demand for crab, especially overseas. LaBarge said the live markets in China, Japan and South Korea are buying more crab and there is always a strong push for crab around the Lunar New Year.
Combine the increase in demand with the crab shortage and this has caused the price of all crab species to increase. many.
“We’ve doubled our prices, which is a shock to long-time customers, you know, but that’s how it is. We are all trying to survive, ”LaBarge said.
Normally, LaBarge has already bought all of her crab for the next tourist season, but with the high prices, she said it didn’t make sense for her to do so.
She hopes that the prices will drop after the holidays and that she can then buy her crab. But she also doesn’t want to wait too long and not have enough crab either.
LaBarge said this next tourist season will make or destroy his business. This year’s season was better than 2020, but she still operated at a loss and she can only do it for so long.
“The only thing we’re good at is we’re good at adjusting our menu, we’re good at adjusting our work. We’ve been doing this for 17 years, so we’re good enough to adapt to the market. But it wasn’t fun, ”LaBarge said.
LaBarge believes next year’s sales will be better than this year, but it’s still just a guessing game at this point.