Federal and state agencies and two state universities, University of Southern Mississippi and Alcorn State University signed off on an agreement to form the “Mississippi Blue Crab Aquaculture Consortium.” The signing ceremony was held at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs, MS on Monday, October 22, 2012. Alcorn’s very own Dr. Dalton McAfee and Dr. Franklin Chukwuma of Alcorn’s School of Agriculture, Research, Extension and Applied Science were in attendance.
Goals of the consortium include, establishing a center for development and outreach/technical assistance to serve as a resource to participant farmers, identify participant farmers, expand current hatchery capacity to increase seed crab availability and decrease production, develop marketing strategies for a domestic product and to evaluate economic feasibility.
In 2002, the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GRCL) became part of the Blue Crab Advanced Research Consortium which is a partnership between the University of Maryland’s Center of Marine Biotechnology, the University of Southern Mississippi, Smithsonian Environmental Research Consortium, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and North Carolina State University. As a result of this collaboration, Mississippi is one of only two states in the U.S. with a blue crab hatchery. The particular interest to restaurants in Mississippi is the development of a local supply of blue crabs which are also called soft crabs and they are between two-and-one-half and three inches in width. This is why they are considered a value- added product and are popular in restaurants and public seafood markets.
Alcorn’s involvement in the Blue Crab industry is to introduce new enterprises and give more cutting edge information to small farmers. “It takes a total of 90 days for the blue crabs to be ready for restaurant marketing and they are in great demand at restaurants as well as public seafood markets,” said Dr. McAfee, Alcorn State University office of AREAS Communications Extension Administrator. Blue crabs can be produced in small ponds; however the content of the water would have to be changed in order to grow the crabs.
Alcorn will consider changing the water content of an existing pond on the campus or construct a new one to be able to grow the crabs in. “We would like to employ specialist in aquaculture and begin to revive the aquaculture area of the agricultural department,” says Dr. McAfee. Alcorn would also like to work jointly together with other government assistance programs to seek grant-funding.
The university will also be raising feed stock which will open opportunitites for students to get involved and serve as interns. Demonstrations and learning sites will also be available from Alcorn in order to inform and reach out to small farmers.
The demand for soft crabs greatly exceeds domestic supply in the Gulf and with continued expansion and development in Mississippi the demand is expected to increase. The involvement of Alcorn in the blue crab industry can have a major influence on small farmers in reference to informing them on how this industry is a major production as well as a commercial product and also providing them with a new niche.