Jonah crab has long been considered bycatch of the lobster industry. In recent years, however, markets for Jonah crab have increased, causing concern that targeted fishing pressure will compromise the health of the fishery.
Jonah crab has no stock assessment or fishery management plan of its own, due in part to limited data on its population, growth rates, distribution, and sexual maturity. In addition, the limited dealer reports available often don't differentiate by species, confusing Jonah crab (Cancer borealis) with rock crab (Cancer irroatus).
A group of buyers and sellers of Jonah crab, along with researchers and management entities, has begun to collaborate on a project that would protect the fishery from overharvest in order to maintain the long-term viability of the industry. This fishery improvement project (FIP) will likely result in improved fisheries data and monitoring, as well as traceability efforts that enable product differentiation in the marketplace.
As Jonah crab increases in value to the region, protecting the resource from depletion becomes progressively important. According to NMFS data, 4,089.8 metric tons (mt) of Jonah crab was landed in New England in 2011 with a total ex-vessel value of $5,530,388. In fact, the harvest has increased steadily over the past decade. In 2011, Massachusetts landed 2,440.30 mt of Jonah crab, Rhode Island landed 1,152 mt, Maine landed 497 mt, and Connecticut landed just 0.1 mt.
More information on the Jonah crab FIP, including the work plan and participants, will be available on GMRI's web site in the coming months.