Evaluating growth and sustainable harvesting practices for Jonah crabs in New England waters

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Joshua Carloni, NH Fish & Game (603.868.1095; joshua.carloni@wildlife.nh.gov)
Win Watson, Biological Sciences, UNH (603.862.1629; win@unh.edu)
Jason Goldstein, Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve (207-646-1555 ext 136; jgoldstein@wellsnerr.org)

The Jonah crab fishery has increased significantly over the past 15 years. This growth has necessitated the development of a Fisheries Management Plan; however, a full assessment of the population cannot be conducted until we gain a better understanding of growth, mortality and reproduction. Recently, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council established a coast-wide standard for claw harvesting, but the implications of declawing these animals are poorly understood. It is vital to determine if this practice has long-term implications that might make it difficult to maintain a sustainable Jonah crab fishery. The primary goal of this project is to examine Jonah crab growth rates and molt increments at different temperatures. These data will help to determine how fast these animals reach sexual maturity and how long it may take for them to reach a legal harvestable size. The secondary goals of this project are to determine how claw harvesting affects the health, mortality and mating behavior of Jonah crabs, both in the laboratory and in the field. Researchers will examine Jonah crab mating behavior in the laboratory to determine if males able to successfully mate after they have had one or both claws removed because they might have difficulty grasping and manipulating females. Collectively, the we expect that the results from our proposed work will have a significant impact on the development of subsequent management plans and lead to a strong, sustainable, and profitable Jonah crab fishery.