Invertebrate fisheries research and monitoring

The Invertebrate Fisheries Project conducts monitoring and applied research on several species of commercially important marine invertebrate species, including American lobster, Jonah crab, Horseshoe crab, Northern shrimp, and Whelk.

American lobster

The American lobster (Homarus americanus) is one of the most economically important marine species landed in MA waters, second only to sea scallops in value. The project conducts a variety of research and monitoring programs designed to enhance our understanding of lobster population dynamics and life history traits. Biologists also spend time on commercial fishing vessels to collect information on the sizes and sex of the lobsters that the fishery encounters. All of our work is designed to support population stock assessments and fisheries management, and to ensure a healthy lobster population for years to come. For more details on our various research and monitoring activities, please visit our American Lobster page.

Jonah crab

Jonah crab (Cancer borealis) used to be considered bycatch in the American lobster fishery. However, it is now a highly targeted species, and is one of the ten most valuable fisheries in Massachusetts. Over 60% of all Jonah crabs commercially harvested in the United States are landed in Massachusetts. Division of Marine Fisheries biologists research Jonah crab size at maturity, movement patterns, and growth. We also collect information on the sizes and sexes of harvested crabs. Some of these data were used to help create the first Jonah Crab Fisheries Management Plan and will be used to inform the first Jonah crab stock assessment.

Horseshoe crabs

The horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) is sometimes referred to as a living fossil, as it's close relatives can be traced back 450 million years. Horseshoe crab eggs are important sources of food for many animals. Limulus amebocyte lystate (LAL) is produced from the blood of horseshoe crabs. LAL tests for bacterial contamination of medical devices, drugs, and other products that contact the human circulatory system. They are also used as bait for whelk and American eel fisheries. DMF monitors the horseshoe crab population in MA as well as the fishery.

Additional Resources

Northern Shrimp

For over 30 years, our researchers have participated in the annual northern shrimp (Pandalus borealis) assessment survey, which takes place for several weeks during July and August. The survey is done through the Gulf of Maine aboard the NOAA research vessel Gloria Michelle. Our biologists also monitor harvest from the fishery and participate in annual stock assessments. 

Channeled and Knobbed Whelk

Channeled whelk and knobbed whelk are commercially important species of large marine snails harvested in Massachusetts state waters. Biologists work aboard cooperating commercial vessels to measure the sizes of whelk captured in the traps, and this information is used to characterize the commercial harvest in various portions of MA waters. Annual abundance estimates of these two species are generated from the DMF trawl survey, which dates back to 1978. In recent years, data on abundance and size structure have also been collected from the ventless lobster trap survey. All of the information we collect is used to monitor the status of the whelk resources.

Additional Resources

Project Contact

For questions regarding the Invertebrate Project, please contact Tracy Pugh at (617) 727-3336 x138 or tracy.pugh@state.ma.us.

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