VIMS scientists to study blue-crab disease

Parasite check

Parasite check:  VIMS post-doctoral fellow Terry Miller checks blue crabs as part of the Hematodinium study.

Jeffrey Shields of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science received a five-year, $2.4-million federal grant to study how fishing pressure and declines in water quality affect the emergence and spread of a blue crab disease in the seaside bays of Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

The grant to study Hematodinium, a parasite, comes through the Ecology of Infectious Diseases Program, a joint effort of the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Shields is joined on the project by VIMS researchers Kimberly Reece and Harry Wang, along with Mark Butler of Old Dominion University. The grant supports three new post-doctoral fellows and three graduate students at VIMS.

Shields notes that fishing pressure is known to affect the movement, aggregation, feeding and mortality of marine organisms, and therefore the transmission of disease.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests that some fishing practices may help to spread the disease,” says Shields. “These include culling of the catch between locations, re-baiting with infected animals, and in some cases using male crabs as bait to attract pre-molt females for the soft-shell fishery.”   i