BEAUFORT — A local seafood dealer is collaborating with scientists from N.C. State University, N.C. Sea Grant, Carteret Community College and the University of Southern Mississippi to see if soft-shell crabs can be raised in a farm setting.
The Associated Press reported March 10 that USM is leading a three-year project, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with a grant of almost $340,000, to try and raise soft-shell crabs in ponds.
Thomas Seafood of Beaufort, a local seafood dealer, is taking part in this project by providing a location to raise the crabs. NCSU Center for Marine Sciences and Technology Director Dr. David Eggleston is also taking part in the experiment, as well as N.C. Sea Grant marine aquaculture specialist Dr. Chuck Weirich.
“This opportunity came up last year,” said Dr. Weirich in an interview Thursday. “We do have a soft-shell crab industry here, (but) one of the key bottlenecks is the peeler crab availability.”
He said the demand for peeler crabs is outpacing the supply, an issue which being able to pond-raise the crabs may help solve.
Thomas Seafood owner and operator Sam Thomas said he got involved in this project through his association with the project leads, in particular USM’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory senior research scientist Harriet Perry.
“I met Harriet about 40 years ago,” Mr. Thomas said. “I know a lot of the principles involved with this (project). I expressed interest (in participating). We (Thomas Seafood) have the ponds to raise them.”
Mr. Thomas said the crabs will be hatched from wild-caught females with eggs at the Gulf Coast lab, after which the newly-hatched crabs will be transported to North Carolina, where they’ll be raised on two, quarter-acre ponds at Thomas Seafood.
Mr. Thomas said pond-raising crabs will be a new experience for him, though another of the project’s principle participants, Dr. Eggleston, has experience.
“Dr. Eggleston had some experience with this in the past,” Mr. Thomas said, “but I don’t think he’s considered (raising) soft-shell crabs in the past. His growth rates were impressive. We think it might work (with soft shells), though that’s a big ‘might.’”
AP reports N.C. Sea Grant will monitor costs, how long it takes to raise the crabs and mortality rates. Dr. Weirich said it will be a three-year project, which they hope to begin this summer.
“We’re just getting started, building the ponds and hiring people,” he said.
If the project works well for the first year, Thomas Seafood will build two additional ponds and scientists will try to replicate the USM hatchery technology at the community college with the help of CCC aquaculture technology chairman David Cerino.
“The third year will be focused on economic analysis,” Dr. Weirich said.
Mr. Thomas said if the crabs grow big enough, they’ll sell them. He also said if pond-raised soft-shell crabs prove viable, this may become a regular product for his dealership.
“If this (experiment) turns out well, that’s exactly what we’d like to do,” Mr. Thomas said. “With the current situation in the crab fishery, it won’t affect the wild caught industry.”
Contact Mike Shutak at 252-726-7081 ext. 206, email firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.