When planning a trip to Norway, Kirkenes may not be on your list of places to visit. It is definitely worth the trip to the far north of Norway to visit.
Where is Kirkenes?
Kirkenes is located in the north of Norway, close to the Russian border.
The two main ways to get to Kirkenes is to fly from Oslo or Tromso or to take a cruise. Hurtigruten have cruises that take you to Kirkenes.
What are King Crabs?
The king crab or red king crab, or Paralithodes camtschaticus to be scientific, is one of the world’s biggest arthropods. An arthropod is an invertebrate which has an exoskeleton, a segmented body and paired jointed appendages. Arthropods include insects, arachnids, myriapods and crustaceans.
Its shell can grow to 220mm in length, can weigh over 10kg and live up to 20 years.
The King Crab is an Invasive Species
The red king crab is native to the Northern Pacific Ocean. The area stretches from Korea and Japan across to Alaska and southeast to Vancouver Island in Canada.
The crabs were intentionally introduced into the Barents Sea by Russian scientists in the 1960s and 1970s. The idea was to create a commercial fishery. The Barents Sea is found to the north of Norway and Russia. By 1992, Norwegian waters were inundated with the crabs.
Since that time they have become invasive and a significant threat to the Norwegian marine ecosystem. To give you some understanding of how invasive the king crab has become in Russia and Norway, by 2006, 90% of the king crabs supplied to markets were Russian king crabs, which totalled more than 25.4 million kilograms.
In their natural habitat, they have a number of predators, from fish such as halibut and Pacific cod, through to sea otters, octopus and whales. But in the fjords of Norway, the only predator they have is humans.
Many people, including conservationists, scientists and even people in the fishing industry are concerned about the impact the crab has had on the coastal ecosystem especially because the adult king crab has no natural predators. However, the king crab has established itself in the Norwegian ecosystem and it is now believed that all that can be done is to keep the king crab population as low as possible by fishing.
The King Crab Fishing Industry
Kings crabs fetch extremely high prices in markets and restaurants around the world. Therefore, the introduction of these crabs has resulted in a new industry to Norway.
Is the King Crab Safari Ethical?
The king crab is an invasive species and is causing significant damage to Norway’s marine ecosystems. Coming from Australia, I have seen the impact introduced species have had on Australia’s ecosystem. For example, the cane toad was introduced to Australia from Hawaii in an attempt to control the native grey-backed cane beetle. The cane toad has thrived and has had a devastating impact on Australian native animals and the environment.
For me, as long as the crabs are caught and killed in a humane way, I do not have an ethical issue with going on a king crab safari. They are an invasive, introduced species causing damage to Norway’s environment.
The King Crab Safari
As we were staying at the Snow Hotel in Kirkenes, we took the safari offered by the hotel. You can find more details including prices for the safari, here.
We stayed at the Snow Hotel in late December, so while we went out on the safari in the late afternoon, it was dark for our trip. If you are heading to Kirkenes in winter (or northern Norway in general), you will have limited day light hours so tours such as this will usually be in the dark.
The safari leaves from the Snow Hotel, but if you are staying in Kirkenes, you can also be picked up from the Thon and Scandic Hotels.
Once we were picked up by bus, we were taken to a timber house where the safari started. But first we had to get our cold weather gear on as well as our helmets. You are taken out on the ice in a sled pulled by a snow mobile.
Everyone eagerly rushed to get a seat in the sled after we got dressed. But what they didn’t realise was that there was a seat behind each of the drivers on the snow mobiles. As we were approaching the sleds, our guides said that the two passengers seats on the snow mobiles could also be used, so we eagerly grabbed them for the trip out onto the fjord. Once people realised they could take the back seat on the snow mobile, there were a number of people eager for the seats on the return trip.
On the ice
It’s important to note, that you don’t actually catch the king crabs. Once out on the ice, you arrive at a hole is the ice with a timber structure above it. Under the ice is a basket which the crabs have already crawled into and been caught.
The basket is pulled up from the water and enough crabs to feed the people on the safari are removed and killed. Yes you do see them killing the crabs.
During this time your guides provide you with details of the crabs including that they are an introduced species and are causing damage to the ecosystem.
Once killed (humanely), you can then take your photo with the crabs.
Cooking and Eating
We then headed back to the house to get out of our cold weather gear while our guides cooked the crabs. The crabs are boiled for about 10 to 13 minutes and are then ready to eat.
Once cooked it’s all you can eat king crab. I don’t eat seafood, so my meal was bread and butter, but Darren, my husband, definitely ate enough for two people!
In summer, you can go out on an RIB boat, but in winter, you do the trip out onto the frozen fjord.
The king crab safari is definitely worth experiencing, especially if you love seafood.