Marine Biologist Dr. Charles Epifanio
Blue crabs -- steamed pink to perfection -- rank high on seafood lovers' lists. Year-to-year variations in blue crab catches have heightened concerns that the crab population in the Delaware Bay is declining. While overfishing is typically blamed, Chuck Epifanio, a marine biologist at the University of Delaware, points out that natural forces also play an important role in controlling the local abundance of blue crabs.
On Tuesday, May 23, at the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington, Epifanio will present "A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean: All You Ever Wanted to Know about Blue Crabs and More." The lecture, which includes lunch, is the last in a four-part series sponsored by the University of Delaware Graduate College of Marine Studies and the Sea Grant College Program.
"From an economic standpoint, the blue crab is the most valuable shellfish in the Mid-Atlantic region, so it's critical that we understand the factors that control its population," Epifanio says. "While fishing pressure is one concern, natural factors such as winds and currents can have serious impacts on the blue crab during its early life stages." An understanding of the natural factors that affect the blue crab population will aid resource officials in developing management plans for the fishery.
The average female blue crab spawns more than a million eggs each year at the mouth of the Delaware Bay. The newly hatched larval crabs resemble tiny dots and drift along at the mercy of the currents. Epifanio and oceanographer Richard Garvine have modeled the dispersal of the larval crabs in the bay using real wind and river discharge data. The model shows that larval crabs are carried rapidly southward by the Delaware Coastal Current. As the coastal current decreases in strength, summertime winds can then transport larvae northward for re-entry into the bay.
This study of blue crab dispersal and recruitment, funded by the University's Sea Grant College Program, helps complete a research story that Epifanio has been developing for the past two decades and which is widely regarded by the scientific community as the benchmark in the field.
A member of the college's faculty since 1971, Epifanio also conducts research on other crab species that may be found in Delaware Bay, including the mud crab, a key predator of oysters, and the Japanese shore crab, a non-native species that now inhabits the bay. He and his colleagues also are studying the crabs that live near hydrothermal vents in the Pacific Ocean.
Epifanio received his bachelor's degree in biology from Lafayette College and his doctorate in zoology from Duke University.
The lecture, which includes lunch, begins at noon. The cost is $10 per person, and advance reservations are required. To make reservations, call (302) 831-2841, or send an e-mail to MarineCom@udel.edu.