How Dungeness crabs’ complex lifecycle will be affected by climate change

Dungeness crab

A Dungeness crab, or Cancer magister, sits on kelp.Jerry Kirkhart/Flickr

New research on the Pacific Northwest portion of the Dungeness crab fishery, which spans the West Coast of the U.S. and Canada, projects how this crustacean will fare under climate change.

Results show that by the end of this century, lower-oxygen water will pose the biggest threat. And while these crabs start as tiny, free-floating larvae, it’s the sharp-clawed adults that will be most vulnerable, specifically to lower-oxygen coastal waters in summer.

The open-access study will be in the December issue of AGU Advances, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

“Including all life stages allowed us to identify a critical life stage, and thus make a management recommendation,” said co-author Samantha Siedlecki at the University of Connecticut, who began the study while at the UW. “Looking seasonally, instead of annually, gives different – and more severe – vulnerability estimates.”

Dungeness crab is the largest single-species fishery in the Northwestern U.S. Washington’s Dungeness Crab Festival takes place in October near the Dungeness Cove that gives the species its name, and the crustacean is a favorite of Pacific Northwest holiday meals and in traditional diets. The study was designed in consultation with the Hoh, Makah, Quileute and Quinault Indian Nation tribes, whose members harvest, study and eat Dungeness crab on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

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