Crabs, clams, and shrimp (Oh my!)

The title pretty much explains the theme of the past week.

Most of my time was spent collecting, measuring, weighing, and tagging Dungeness and Red Rock crabs for an abundance/life history study. I worked with my mentor, Scott, and Sylvia, a researcher from OSU. We started Monday afternoon by deploying about a dozen crab traps throughout Charleston marina. Tuesday morning, the survey began. Aside from an occasional kelp crab, the traps contained only Dungeness and Red Rock crabs. We started by measuring and weighing the Dungeness crabs. We measured carapice width and then took their weight in grams. This information was later uploaded to a database so Scott could make continuing estimates of the size distribution and biomass of the crabs in the Charleston area. The Red Rock crabs were measured and weighed in the same manner as the Dungeness crabs but were then tagged as part of a mark-recapture study being conducted by Sylvia. As I recall, the tags were called “flow tags” and were attached to the crabs using a plastic “gun,” which had a needle that was inserted into the crab’s carapice at the molting seam. When the trigger was pulled, the tag was attached and hung off the crabs by a small plastic thread. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a photo, because the work was fairly wet, and we wanted to keep the pace up. I’ll try to upload a photo of the tagging this week. The tagging is believed to have no effect on the crabs’ mortality, because the needle is inserted into a hollow area of the carapice, but I think it would make for a cool study to confirm this. The tagging procedure was performed every day of the week, and we’ll be doing it again this Monday and Tuesday. We tagged over 200 rock crabs and measured/weighed over 500 crabs total. And to think I only got pinched once! This procedure provided an introduction to crab sampling and also got me started on my first in-depth work with databases.

At various times over the week I also measured and weighed pink shrimp as part of an abundance/size study. This work was conducted in the lab. Shrimp boat captains graciously provide us samples of their catch, which we measure and weigh to determine the most common size present. Measurements were taken using electronic calipers that were plugged into a laptop so the data were injected directly into a spreadsheet for later analysis.

Finally, this past Saturday was the Clamboree festival in nearby Empire, OR. Clamboree is a culinary festival celebrating……clams (and other shellfish as well). I helped staff the ODFW booth with Stacey and Cami from ODFW, Newport. We had much literature to pass out regarding shellfish identification and good crabbing/clamming locations around Coos Bay. We also had live specimens of gaper, butter, littleneck, cockle, and softshell clams, as well as a live Dungeness crab. These proved popular with everybody; especially the kids. I learned how to properly clean clams and some popular ways of preparing them for the table–chowders, fritters, steamers. Visitors to the booth readily shared tips and tricks for cooking clams. The only downer of the day was the weather: it was cool and rainy, and it definitely had a negative effect on festival attendance. We kept busy at our booth, though, and had a steady flow of visitors throughout the day.

Oh yeah, one last thing. Backtrack to Monday. The week actually started off with a staff meeting, via conference call, between various ODFW biologists and managers. I sat in on the meeting with Scott and Steve Rumrill, leader of the ODFW Shellfish Program. At one point during the meeting people took turns discussing what they had done/accomplished the previous week and what their plans were for the upcoming week. It was at this point that Scott had to excuse himself to take a call in his office. No big deal right? Well, turns out the Charleston office (where I’m interning) was first up. Steve talked some about what he was doing and then says something like “And now Eric will discuss what he and Scott have been working on.” Yikes! You mean I actually have to speak? Despite being caught off-guard, I think I did pretty well. I reported on our exploratory cockle study, beach seining, and GIS work and then spoke about the upcoming crab sampling. Steve was very reassuring and gave me the thumbs up when I finished. A bit nerve-wracking at first, but I actually felt pretty good when it was over.

I’ll leave you with some photos of crabs and clams and will try to upload some detailed photos of the tagging this week. I bid you peace.



At the ODFW booth. Clamboree! Empire, OR.

Our live specimens at Clamboree 2012.

Measuring a Dungeness crab.



The journey begins

Well, actually my summer internship with Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) began last Wednesday. I arrived here at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology (OIMB) in Charleston, OR and barely got settled in before meeting my mentor, ODFW shellfish biologist Scott Groth, and starting in with fieldwork.

At this point allow me to call your attention to the Oregon Sea Grant “Meet the Scholars” webpage. There you can find out a little bit more about me, my fellow interns, and the projects we’ll be working on throughout the summer.

Although my internship is centered on shellfish, my first task was to assist the ODFW fish biologist with shore seining efforts. We worked in a team of four and seined five locations in the south slough of Coos Bay over a three-hour period. We were seining for salmonids as part of a population study conducted by the fish biologist, but many species turned up in the net: flounders, sculpins, gunnels, surf smelts, surfperch, jellyfish, dungeness crabs—it had all the makings for a chowder! We sorted out all the salmonids and took length measurements before returning them to the slough. I learned to tell the difference between an english sole and a sand sole and got my first experience in shore seining. It was pretty cool.

The next day Scott and I traveled out into the south slough and took some preliminary measurements for the heart cockle study. Our goal was to set some points via GPS that would serve to outline the boundaries for the survey area. We encountered some areas of soft mud, and it was then that I learned than I’m “a sinker” as opposed to “a floater.” Darn! Well, it made things a bit more challenging, but far from impossible. If nothing else I know I’ll be getting a good workout trudging through the mudflats this summer. We encountered a friendly cockle harvester who was quite willing to let us take some measurements of his catch. I got some experience using digital calipers and measuring cockle shells. Other new experiences included my first introduction to ArcGIS, maintenance of outboard motors, and cockle harvesting techniques—basically you just drag a rake through the mud, and out they pop.

This coming week our focus is shifting to the tagging of red crabs. What variety! Stay tuned…..more to come!