Sunday 8 December, 2019

US researchers studying T&T's blue crabs

US researchers visited Trinidad and Tobago to analyse the blue crab as part of a study on viral pathogens affecting the species

Agricultural economist Omardath Maharaj joined Dr Donald Behringer, Marine and Disease Ecologist, Associate Professor and Project Lead from the University of Florida, and his team to take samples of blue crabs from the Gulf of Paria last week. 

Dr Behringer and his team have been awarded a US$1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to try to revive the crab industry. 

Maharaj said the study will the findings will be of interest to the smallest economic participants in the local fishery as well as the national population of Trinidad and Tobago.

This forms part of on-going research to determine how variation in life history and connectivity drive pathogen-host dynamics and genetic structure in a trans-hemispheric pathosystem.

The pathogen is not transferable to humans. 

"While we understand much about these life cycle characteristics for important fishery species such as the blue crab (Callinectes sapidus), we understand little about how variations in these characteristics interact with large-scale movement of individuals in the oceans to shape connections between populations." 

"Similarly, we are aware of the emergence and impact of diseases on marine organisms such as crustaceans, corals, and echinoderms, but are only beginning to understand how they spread between distant host populations."

"However, recent advancements in oceanographic modelling, genetic techniques, and animal tracking technologies have greatly increased our ability to measure and model population connectivity in the ocean," Maharaj said. 

Maharaj said the blue sea crab has considerable socioeconomic value in Trinidad and Tobago and numbers are being heavily depleted.

"While there has been significant advocacy focused on the integrity and sustainability the Gulf of Paria and its inherent fishery for many years; the outstanding issues remain largely unaddressed."

"The focal points have been the damage inflicted by energy and industrial interests, unsustainable fishing practices, and general environmental interactions from climate change through flooding and effluent on the fishery especially juveniles, breeding grounds and vulnerable species."

"In this instance, further pressure on food and nutrition security as well as livelihoods is possible through viruses and genetic changes," he said. 

Maharaj said a stronger emphasis must be placed on the fishing industry to protect habitat and breeding grounds. 

"We are of the shared view that more must be done within the fisheries sector and towards all actions, voluntarily or involuntarily, that lead to its detriment. This includes, but not limited to, fishing techniques and regulations, measures to protect habitat and breeding grounds, enforcement, adopting proper equipment and procedures at sea and at landing sites, and related public awareness and #education concerning the sector."

'Ultimately, Trinidad and Tobago would benefit from the knowledge generated in this project; resource managers who need to manage fisheries, including the artisanal soft shell crab industry, sustainably."

"Simple best practices to avoid disease mortality and curtail the spread of the virus are being developed and could be communicated to fisherfolk through direct collaboration and public workshops. The project also includes formal and informal educational programs integrated with the research program."

"We, as a people, must commit to supporting activities which put value into the hands of the people who need them the most but also those that claw at development," he said. 

The research team was assisted by the Claxton Bay Fishing Association, Felicity Charlieville Fishing Association, Otaheite Fishing Association, Fisheries Division and the Department of Agricultural Economics & Extension, University of the West Indies. 


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