An invasion of monsters or a gift to a northern nation?

It all started with nine crabs in the year 1960. The Russian Jurij Ilarionvitsj Orlov travelled to the Japanese Ocean, caught nine red king crabs,…

It all started with nine crabs in the year 1960.

The Russian Jurij Ilarionvitsj Orlov travelled to the Japanese Ocean, caught nine red king crabs, brought them home and let the crabs go in the Barents Sea.

The reason?

The Soviet authorities’ idea of food-production for the people.

At first, the crabs didn’t do particularly well.

For 15 years, few fishermen, if any, saw any evidence of the gigantic creature.

But after that, the population began to grow quite fast and it also began to spread out. Since 1992, its abundance in Norwegian waters has been on a steady increase.

In fact, it appears the crabs really do like the Barents Sea.

They also like the Norwegian coast.

More and more of them are discovered popping up and ruining fishermen’s nets further south and west along the Norwegian coast.

Media interest in these crabs has been large, and understandably so, according to a Norwegian scientist Jan H. Sundet at the Institute of Marine Research in Tromsö in Norway.

“This is good-news stuff,” said Sundet at a course meant for Nordic journalists that I attended in Norway recently. “The crab tastes good; it comes from far away; it is big and particularly monster-like.”

With fully grown male crabs weighing up to 12 kilograms, his words are no understatement.

Sundet added that though most journalists use headlines like “Giant Crab Invasion” and “Norway’s Coastal Life Endangered,” the Norwegians are actually in the process of learning how earn big bucks with the creatures.

In 2002, the ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs opened for commercial catch of the crabs, and since then, the Norwegian quota has increased from 100,000 crabs in 2002, to 200,000 crabs in 2003, and 280,000 crabs in 2004.

The total income from the industry now sits at well over 100 million Norwegian kroners and the red king crab has thus become an important income for many fishermen in the northern part of Norway.

The authorities have given a major consideration to the interests of those fishermen who have been most negatively affected by the problems of crab by-catch, which were mainly fishermen where the crab began to appear first in the 1970s.

So by now, few Norwegian fishermen speak of stopping the invasion, as it is a futile task.

Instead, the government pours resources into catching the crab, as well as learning about its lifespan, reproductive habits, food preference, depth preferences and its ability to travel.

The Institute of Marine Research has discovered that a single crab can travel up to four nautical miles in a year, can live at 400-metre depth and thrives 12 nautical miles from shore.

Furthermore, one female crab can have up to 100,000 babies at a time, which the current then might take and carry to far-away places.

In other words, there is no way of foretelling where the crab’s migration will stop.

Much has been speculated upon its effects upon nature.

“Though it must have effects, no evidence has been found that suggest these are negative,” said Sundet.

He explained how scientists now closely watch life at the bottom, as the crab eats just about anything it comes upon, including fish eggs and plant life.

They’re particularly worried that the red king crab will eliminate all other marine life on the seabed in the Barents Sea, leaving an “underwater desert” in its wake.

Though studies are not conclusive, this appears not to be the case.

Indeed, preliminary investigations in Norwegian waters show no significant effects on the fauna, neither on species abundance nor on their composition.

However, these, and countless other, studies are still ongoing, said Sundet.

“You see, we can’t stop it, so we better get to know it,” he said.