In a first for the Gulf of Mexico region, scientists at The University
of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Laboratory have reared
blue crabs in captivity from eggs to baby crabs.
production of the baby crabs is a step toward developing commercial
aquaculture operations that can raise juvenile crabs in ponds for
the soft-shell crab market, noted Harriet Perry, director of the
Southern Miss Center for Fisheries Research and Development at the
At 20 days
old, the GCRL crabs entered a second larval stage termed a "megalopa."
About the size of a capital letter in newspaper print, they look
more like little lobsters than crabs and are white, not blue.
time they molt is when they finally begin to look like a crab,"
The GCRL project
is part of a blue-crab consortium. Maryland consortium members successfully
reared blue crabs from eggs to the second larval stage last year.
While they are looking to rebuild a declining crab fishery in the
Chesapeake Bay using hatchery-reared blue crabs, the GCRL team is
interested in developing the technology for production of soft-shell
crabs in ponds.
crab is harvested after the crab has molted and filled out its new
shell but before that shell begins to harden.
crab is the money crab," Perry said. "Our crab fishery
in the Gulf of Mexico is in stable condition, but hard crabs may
bring $6 a dozen while soft crabs can go for $16 to $36 a dozen.
Crabbers sell all the soft-shell crabs they can catch to our regional
markets. Developing blue crabs as a new species for aquaculture
would open the possibility of exporting Gulf of Mexico soft crabs."
recirculating seawater systems more than two decades ago to hold
wild-caught crabs until the crabs shed and can be harvested as the
higher-priced soft crab.
in hatchery-produced individuals is to develop technologies for
the efficient year-round production of pre-molt and soft-shell crabs,"
team has taken a first step toward establishing a steady supply
of seed stock-- the juvenile crabs that can be used to grow crabs
to a marketable size--initially in the aquaculture experiments and,
once the technology is in place, in commercial operations.
is to get the megalopae to an early crab stage, something a little
larger than a dime," she said. "Growing the crabs to that
juvenile stage will be the biggest challenge because they are so
She said another
element of the project is to supply hatchery-reared juvenile crabs
for research on parasite and disease studies. Drs. Robin Overstreet
and Jeffrey Lotz, Southern Miss professors of coastal sciences at
the GCRL, will be looking at a parasitic barnacle and a parasite
that, while not harmful to humans, affects the crab's blood and
the animal's survival.
The GCRL is
part of the university's College of Science and Technology.