Russia’s crab harvesters could be forced to suspend operations because of wide-scale sanctions imposed on the industry, sources told IntraFish.

In March, the United States imposed a ban on Russian seafood imports, including crab, as part of a global response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The sanctions do not come into force until June 23, but Russian crab harvesters have already encountered difficulties shipping to the United States and the EU because of sanctions-related supply chain issues.

"It is no longer possible to export even under previously concluded contracts, as the logistics have been destroyed," a source in the industry told IntraFish.

The United states and the EU account for nearly half of Russia’s overall crab exports, according to Rosrybolovstvo, the country’s fishery agency.

In 2021, the United States imported 31,895 metric tons of crab from Russia, mainly brine-frozen, worth $1.2 billion (€1 billion). Frozen snow crab and frozen red king crab accounted for over $900 million (€796 million) of that total.

Other markets such as Asia hold promise, but retooling vessels to supply those markets -- which mainly want live crab -- is complicated and costly, and requires imported equipment that is increasingly difficult to get hold of.

Logistics pose an issue as well.

"We are not able to supply live crab to Asia from the northwest of Russia due to the remoteness of the markets," Konstantin Drevetnyak, director general of the Union of Fisheries of the North, told IntraFish.

Alexander Duplyakov, head of the Russian Association of the Far Eastern Crab Catchers, said his members are also facing challenges shifting over to new markets, in part because they have always focused on the harvesting -- not the buyer.

"They still do not understand very well where to sell their products," Duplyakov told IntraFish.

"Now, Russian crab fishing companies are forced to send most of the catches to warehouses, where capacity is limited."

Russia’s pollock ‘A’ fishing season recently ended, and although logistics and refrigeration problems are "not as acute as last year," large volumes of catches were stockpiled, Russia’s Pollock Catchers Association said.

In addition, Russia’s Pacific wild salmon season kicked off on June 1, and these fish will also take up significant space in cold storage facilities in the Far East.

Redirection to the domestic market is also problematic, given the stringent requirements on natural arsenic content in processed crab.

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The only solution?

Some Russian market watchers say there is no other choice but to suspend crab fishing.

According to the All-Russian Association of Fishermen (VARPE), the restricted export markets on aquatic resources could cause the seafood industry to lose $4.3 billion (€4.2 billion) per year.

Rosrybolovstvo recognizes the problem with crab exports, but does not see a risk of fishery suspension, noting that it is working with crabbing companies to find alternative markets.

Moreover, the agency emphasized that despite the sanctions, the volume of the country’s seafood exports to countries outside the Eurasian Economic Union -- which includes Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia -- increased 40 percent year-on-year in the first quarter to 430,000 metric tons.

According to Rosrybolovstvo, in 2021 Russia’s total crab harvest amounted 96,000 metric tons. Volumes harvested through May 23 this year reached 31,500 metric tons.

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