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Stone crab fishery could be challenged by ocean acidification, study suggests

The first study on Florida stone crabs and ocean acidification was published this month by a Mote Marine Laboratory scientist and offers clues for relieving environmental stress on these tasty and economically valuable crabs.

The study in the peer-reviewed Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology provides the first evidence that stone crab embryos develop more slowly and fewer eggs hatch to larvae (babies) in controlled laboratory systems mimicking ocean acidification (OA) — a chemically induced decrease in ocean water pH at global to local levels that is being driven by increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

News media can request a PDF copy of the study by contacting Hayley Rutger: 941-374-0081, The impact of OA to marine and estuarine species and habitats is worsened when combined with the impacts of nutrient-rich coastal runoff, sewage water inputs and loss of wetlands due to coastal development. Some coastal habitats in Florida are experiencing seasonal declines in pH three times faster than the rate of OA anticipated for global oceans by the end of the century.

Most stone crab fishing occurs in coastal habitats susceptible to OA along with other potential stressors including reduced oxygen levels and harmful algal blooms. The stone crab industry — centered along west Florida — was valued in 2015 at $36.7 million, but since 2000 the average annual commercial harvest has declined by about 25 percent.

Mote scientists are studying stone crabs under various environmental conditions, starting with acidified water, to help resource managers sustain this critical fishery.