Crab diets examined for clues to shrinking stocks

Those are just a few of the secrets being revealed at the nation’s top king crab research lab in Kodiak. Scientists at the Near Island center handle the yearly Bering Sea king crab surveys and use samples to study their biology and breeding. They hope to find clues about why king crab stocks are not returning to Kodiak and why recruitment is so low and slow at Bristol Bay.

Right now the researchers are studying crab diets.

“Not much has been done on that because crabs eat everything. They shred it. So we are trying to identify it with genetic signatures. To find out what they are eating helps us understand what’s out there,” said Bob Foy, director of the NOAA/Kodiak lab. “It helps us understand if the environment is producing enough food to the bottom of the ocean. What they’ve found in the Bering Sea is that there are cycles. If we understand the production of the ocean ecosystem, it can help predict how well the crab stocks might do.”

The researchers recently learned that while female king crab lay hundreds of thousands of eggs, their viability can vary extremely over time. Foy said that discovery has changed the way crab stocks are surveyed.

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