How the war in Ukraine created a new kingdom of king crab - Marketplace (2024)

King crabs caught in the waters off Bugøynes, Norway, in 2002. More recently, sanctions on Russian seafood products have boosted demand for the village's catch. Jan-Morten Bjornbakk/AFP via Getty Images

The sanctions the U.S. imposed on Russian products at the onset of the war in Ukraine have now been in effect for more than two years. That spurred demand for alternatives to Russian exports, including seafood.

Andrew S. Lewis, writing in Bloomberg Businessweek, explained that the conflict has expanded markets for Norway’s crab industry. He spoke with “Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal about how climate change and the war in Ukraine turned an Arctic fishing village into a king crab capital.

An edited transcript of their conversation is below.

Kai Ryssdal: Tell me, first of all, just as a scene setter, what happened to this little Norwegian fishing village of Bugøynes, if I’m pronouncing it right?

Andrew S. Lewis:Bugøynes — pretty close. It’s a pretty classic Norwegian fishing village. It was going through really tough times in the late ‘80s, early ’90s, as were a lot of fishing villages around the world, especially ones that relied on cod, like Bugøynes did. So by 1991, they were in very dire straits, and in fact, they all came together and put an ad in the national newspaper asking for someone to buy them out and relocate them. That’s how desperate they were.

Ryssdal: I think that’s my favorite part of this piece. I might try that myself. “Somebody buy me out and move me someplace yummy.” And then what happened? Because this is sort of a tale — it’s a, it’s a fishing voyage, if you would.

Lewis: It is an absolute fish tale. Things turned around very quickly, actually. Just one year later, one of the last fishermen in Bugøynes, a guy by the name of Leif Ingilæ — his family had been in Bugøynes for generations, and he was kind of sticking with it, even though the fishing was really bad. I think at that time, there were three boats left in the harbor. And [one day] he pulls up the net, there aren’t any fin fish in there, but there’s this massive, menacing, scary crab in his net.

Ryssdal: I’m no fisherman, but king crab are an invasive species up in the north of Norway, right?

Lewis: They are. So it, it took a little bit of time to try to figure out what the heck was going on. And then someone at the Norway sort of national fisheries agency got onto it that Russia was responsible for all of this. They had, in the 1930s under [Soviet leader Josef] Stalin, to essentially create another food source for the Russian people. Stalin’s fisheries organization had just a handful of juvenile red king crab flown on a military transport plane across the continent and dumped into a fjord not that far from the Norwegian border. That is, not that far from Bugøynes.

Ryssdal: History is amazing. All right, so now that’s the 1930s. Here we come to the 2020s. Russia invades Ukraine, and then what happens? Because this is the turn in the story.

Lewis: Yeah. So, I mean, Norway, and Bugøynes in particular, had been building their red king crab fishery since the ’90s, since Leif Ingilæ found that first crab, but it was always a niche fishery. Then Putin invades Ukraine, and here come the sanctions. And all of a sudden, this country that controlled 94% of the global market is shut out of the United States, and Norway was, was one of the few places in the world that had red king crab to sell.

Ryssdal: And Leif Ingilæ and the gang and Bugøynes are happy campers, right?

Lewis: Very happy campers. Leif, I believe, takes annual vacations to the Mediterranean, as you should. So yeah, I mean, money is good now for them. And you know, we hear a lot of stories about tough times for fishermen, but up there in the northern part of Norway, things are all right.

Ryssdal: So, as I was reading this piece, I was trying to figure out whether it’s a story of serendipity or kind of unintended consequences. What do you think?

Lewis: I guess a little bit of both. But definitely unintended consequences are the key figure here, and it’s a classic story of an invasive species, isn’t it? You know, red king crab, for a long time, did kick the marine ecosystems of northern Norway out of balance. These days, it’s a little more in balance. So, it’s actually kind of one of these, these instances where the crab has now been around long enough to where it’s kind of becoming a native species.

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How the war in Ukraine created a new kingdom of king crab - Marketplace (2024)

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