Soft-Shell Crabs Created On Demand?

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October 30, 2009—Researchers may have found a way to induce molting in blue crabs, which could increase the availability of soft-shell crabs, considered a delicacy.
© 2009 National Geographic; Video Courtesy: UAB

Unedited Transcript:

Some U.S. scientists believe they have found a way that might make soft-shell crabs available year round.

A research team at the University of Alabama at Birmingham may be on the way to finding a method to induce molting, which leaves the blue crab with a soft-shell.

Molting in the spring and early summer allows the crab to grow, and before its new exoskeleton has a chance to harden, the crab is more pliable for just a period of hours.

SOUNDBITE: Doug Watson, Biologist, University of Alabama at Birmingham AND IT IS IN THAT SHORT WINDOW OF TIME WHEN THE SOFT-SHELLED CRAB, THE NEWLY MOLTED CRAB, IS CONSIDERED TO BE A DELICACY BY LOVERS OF SEAFOOD.

Due to habitat loss and pollution, wild populations of blue crabs have plummeted over the last decade, spelling disaster for the crabs and those who rely on crabbing for a living.

Watsons theory is that crabs pulled from the wild population could be induced to molt year round.

He says his team has isolated the hormone receptor that inhibits molting and will soon test compounds designed to block the receptor and induce molting.

SOUNDBITE: Doug Watson, Biologist, University of Alabama at Birmingham IN VITRO, IN THE PETRI DISH, THE RECEPTOR BLOCKER BLOCKS THE EFFECT OF THE MOLT INHIBITING HORMONE, SO WHAT WE WANT TO DO NOW IS TEST IT IN CRABS AND SEE IF IT WILL INDUCE MOLTING IN CRABS.

According to Monterey Bay Aquariums Seafood Watch, a sustainable farming program would need to follow, among other things, strict guidelines surrounding the impact on the wild population.

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