21st February

The current status of Irish crab stocks

Concerns that the viability of brown crab (Cancer pagurus)− the third most important species of fish landed in Ireland, having a first-sale value of almost €12m– is under threat from over-fishing were firmly played down at Crab Conference 2005 held recently in Galway.

Outlining the current picture for the brown crab fishery, BIM’s Fisheries Development Manager, Michael Keatinge, was optimistic that despite significant gaps in the statistical information available to fisheries scientists, “things were improving.”

 

For this he praised fishermen and their willingness to co-operate with scientists by supplying crucial data on landings and for “building a partnership with science which provided the essential information for accurate stock assessment.”

His remarks were echoed later by Oliver Tully, Inshore Fisheries Development Co-ordinator at BIM who explained that “a stepped decline” in LPUE between 2001 and 2003 (Landings Per Unit Effort, expressed as kilos of crab landed per pot lifted) might simply “be a reflection of increased competition for the available stock.”

Tully acknowledged however that there was a difficulty in interpreting the LPUE data, conceding that “it could be interpreted in a number of ways.”

Critically, however, for the long-term viability of crab stocks, he stated that “we think the decline is not the result of a decline in recruitment into the stock, and there is no evidence of this.”

Backing up this belief he pointed to the significance of the size of crab when mature and ready to spawn, and the size at which they are landed from the fishery.

“The average size of brown crab at maturity is 123mm across the carapace. The size of crab being landed ranges between 165mm and 170mm, with hardly any crabs being landed at the minimum size of 130mm. It is important to realise that this 40mmm or so gap protects the fishery because there is a whole proportion of the population that is not being exploited.”

He admitted however that while this observation alone “doesn’t probably protect stocks enough, it is still true that there is no evidence of a decline in recruitment.”

Nevertheless, he concluded that “a precautionary approach has to be adopted when we see a decline in the LPUE. And although we don’t think it’s a problem at this stage, we don’t actually know for sure. So, on that basis, we should be cautious.”

 

 

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