OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - If you enjoy eating soft shell crabs, there's good news for future supplies of that seafood. USM's Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs is working with several other agencies to promote blue crab aquaculture.
Representatives from Gulf Coast Research Lab, Alcorn State University, the DMR and USDA have formed a blue crab research consortium.
One main goal of the group is to create economic opportunity by finding small farmers to raise soft shell crabs.
At Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs, representatives from the four educational and government groups signed a "memorandum of understanding" Monday morning to formally create the blue crab consortium.
That group will work to find farmers interested in aquaculture to produce "appetizer sized" soft shell crabs.
"It's a high value product. They can grow these up to the size that you would choose to eat them in about 90 days, so it's a product that will turn over rapidly on the farm," said GCRL Director Dr. Eric Powell.
Alcorn State already works with catfish farmers. Blue crab farming represents new opportunity.
Dalton McAvee is the extension service representative at Alcorn.
"Has a lot of great promise because we can grow it in small ponds, which farmers have. And it's not that costly, with support from USDA, to establish new ponds," he said.
"Some of the benefits I see is additional income for our family farms. Additional income. And I think in today's economic environment, that's a plus," said Wesley Kerr, with the USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service.
Greg Crochet helps oversee the blue crab ponds at the Lyman hatchery. He's optimistic about the economic viability of raising crabs.
"One of our ponds where we work strictly with just the soft shell crabs, I think we pulled 568 soft shell crabs out of a quarter acre," said Crochet.
"Right now we have the experimental ponds at the DMR Lyman fish hatchery. And so we want to take that technology and what we have learned by working with those ponds, out to the real world," said Harriet Perry, whose long term research of the species have colleagues calling her "the crab lady."
Along with raising the "appetizer sized" soft shell crabs, the consortium is also exploring the opportunity of raising blue crabs to be sold as bait for the recreational fishing industry.