Found in coastal and shelf waters along the Atlantic coast, Jonah crabs serve as an important source of supplemental income for lobstermen, who are responsible for 98 per cent of their harvest from federal waters in the northeast.
This overlap in fisheries has led to Jonah crab being treated as a bycatch of the lobster industry; however, fast-growing market demand has increased the targeted fishing pressure on the species in recent years.
In the absence of a comprehensive management plan and stock assessment process, this growing interest in Jonah crab has compromised the long-term health of the fishery.
Just this week, however, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) acted on the recommendation of an industry-led group, which we have been facilitating since 2012, to incorporate Jonah crab into the management plan that governs the lobster fishery.
New England fishermen, scientists, retailers, regulators, and processors formed the working group to proactively pursue sustainable management of the Jonah crab fishery and safeguard its long-term health.
During the last two years, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) has worked alongside the group to identify threats to the sustainability of the fishery and create a work plan to address them. The GMRI's briefing to the ASMFC this week summarised the data gathered by the GMRI and provided a set of recommendations for management of the fishery.
The lobster management board will now review GMRI's recommendations - including crab size limits and reporting requirements - and propose a management plan that protects the Jonah crab fishery and ensures the continued availability of this resource.