Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Shrimp Publication!

Remember WAY back in the day when I shared these photos of shrimp embryos?

spot shrimp and coonstripe shrimp embryos

I was processing shrimp collected from different sites around Port Valdez for hydrocarbon analysis. Polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are simply compounds made up of hydrogen and carbon that occur in crude oil. They = not so good for human consumption, or for animals, or for nature in general (see the Exxon Valdex Oil Spill). So this project looked at whether or not shrimp collected near oil tanker operations were safe to eat. My role was properly dissecting the shrimp and separating them by body part - tails (the most-often eaten item), heads (sucked on - not my style), and eggs (oy, I'll get to this one). And now the results have been published! Woo!

pink shrimp embryos

Let's cut to the chase: the majority of everything was safe with the small exception of eggs! ... And here's where I get on my soapbox: we shouldn't be harvesting reproductive females in any fishery that we hope can be sustainable. The lobstermen on the East Coast know this and v-notch the tails of reproductive female lobsters before returning them so that (a) they have a chance to hatch those delicious babies and (b) even when they're not gravid (showing eggs on the underside of their tails), it's known that these gals can get the job done for future years of successful harvests. Long story short - you shouldn't be eating the potentially tainted shrimp eggs from Port Valdez anyway! (Honestly, most shrimp you buy in general are terrible [high bycatch in trawl shrimping, pollution from farmed shrimp, slavery in shrimp processing, etc.] so unless you or your friend are catching shrimp using pots, you should just avoid 'em.)

(Disclaimer: that's just my opinion, well thought out though it may be, and doesn't reflect the opinion of any organization for which I've done research.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Lobster rolls are a waste of time, money, and lobsters

I've said it before and I'll say it again: lobster rolls are a waste of stomach space. Why spend money on lobster that's drowned in mayonnaise and miscellaneous spices and thrown on a bun when you could have fresh boiled lobster with liquid gold aka melted butter? Isn't the point of eating lobster to enjoy the taste of lobster? If you want mayo on a bun there are so many better things to eat: BLTs for example! (PS, I feel the same way about lobster macaroni and cheese. Just, no.)

leave the lobster roll, take the fried clams
(does anyone else wish they were cannoli?)
(photo source: yelp)

Where is this rant coming from? Recently different groups have been cracking down on seafood fraud - the mislabeling of food as higher quality products. For example, an Oceana study found that 43% of salmon sold in restaurants and grocery stores from places like New York and Chicago were mislabeled, and the most common wrongful ID was calling farmed salmon "wild-caught". That's a HUGE no-no for this wild-caught Alaskan salmon-loving gal!

Where lobster rolls come in is that another study by Inside Edition showed that many restaurants selling lobster rolls, lobster ravioli, and other heavily-processed lobster dishes are actually serving cheap lobster substitutes like "langostino" (aka squat lobsters, which you may know are more closely related to crabs than true lobsters). Less egregious but equally shady is serving actual lobster cut with other things like whiting, a common name for several white-meat fish like pollock or hake.

In the investigation, one third of the tested "lobster" meat was mislabelled! And the thing is, most people probably couldn't tell because their "lobster" was smothered in mayo! So I don't feel too bad for people who were bamboozled, but I think it's wrong nonetheless. An interesting point that was raised during this investigation is that one restaurateur said they did nothing wrong with mixing fish in to their lobster roll: (A) some people just use a frozen pre-mixed melange of seafood, of which lobster makes up an unknown percentage, for their lobster rolls, and (B) mixing lobster with things like surimi (that fake crab meat made from ground up pollock) and selling it as "lobster salad" should just imply to you, the costumer, that you're getting more than what you're paying for (and by "more" I mean "less"). And I'm not really knocking surimi - I like California rolls as much as the next person, and I was an observer in a fish processing plant that made surimi, so I've seen it from start to finish!

Mmmm, I can still smell the ground pollock from here!

Anyway, do yourself a favor: next time you want lobster, just order the whole thing with a side of garlic butter, put on a bib, and enjoy pure crustaceany goodness!

this is how you do it! (shananana-na-nana)
(photo from Honestly Yum)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Caution for California crab lovers

A nasty little algae has been blooming like crazy lately (thanks, global warming!) and it's having some pretty serious consequences for Dungeness-loving consumers in California. The diatom, Pseudo-nitzschia sp., produces domoic acid, and at the high productivity rate it's experiencing because of warmer ocean conditions, the domoic acid is startin' trouble. When consumed at high concentrations, domoic acid can cause seizures, comas, and death! Yikes! It also causes short-term memory loss, so when people (or animals) get it from eating shellfish, it's known as Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning. (Remember learning about Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning here?) The domoic acid bioaccumulates in filter feeders like clams, mussels, and crabs (!!!) who just want to munch on some phytoplankton.

"Lay off me, I'm starving!" - Metacarcinus magister (PC Brian Feulner)

Speaking of crabs, California has closed its recreational and commercial crab seasons for both Dungeness and rock crabs because of this domoic acid contamination! This closure not only affects consumers (in a good way, really, because DEATH), but also the fishermen themselves who rely on these crabs for their livelihood. So it's kinda a lose-lose situation at the moment: fishermen lose money and their ability to pay their bills-bills-bills, or consumers run the risk of short-term memory loss, paralysis, and death.

How realistic is this concern? Well, dead sea otters have been reported with domoic acid in their systems, several large whales have washed up dead and the toxic diatom is a suspect (PS, the dog in the 3rd picture is adorable!), and even this little sea lion pup was poisoned in utero:

little Danzig in recovery, lucky guy! (PC Paul Chinn, The Chronicle)

Cuteness aside, it's an issue that needs to be monitored, and all my dungie-loving people out there should remain cautious about where your crab were caught and how they were prepared!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Wearable crabs

OK, you know I love me some good crab swag (see exhibit A (for 'awesome', and 'Amelia')), but a new company is taking crab swag up a notch! Tidal Vision is going to take the old carapaces of snow crabs and turn them into shirts and other clothes! Doesn't that sound amazing?!? And strange, potentially smelly, and likely scratchy?

not that Maru minds...

Nope, don't worry: Tidal Vision assures that the fabric feels similar to cotton. And a bonus is that it has natural anti-bacterial and -microbial properties! Because of those properties, they're marketing the shirts as performance wear called "Chitoskin". Brilliant!

So what is chitosan, you're asking? Chitosan comes from chitin, which is what crustacean shells are made of. By treating chitin with sodium hydroxide (NaOH aka lye), you get chitosan! Those of you who took high school chemistry may remember using sodium hydroxide to increase the pH of an acidic solution. Mmmm, titrations!

ANYWAY, Tidal Vision is using snow crab shells, as well as salmon skins for wallets and belts, to reduce waste from the fisheries. That's something I can definitely wear proudly!

(from Tidal Vision)

OH MY GOSH, by the way, I guess the whole cat-in-a-crab-hat thing happens A LOT in Japan! I will post photos of my cats if I get them wearing Dungies!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Crab Carpet!

Red tuna crabs (Pleuroncodes planipes) have washed up on Californian shores!

(photo from here)

Cue the line for cocktail sauce! These little crabs are actually squat lobsters (similar to my favorite squat lobster, the yeti crab), and are also called 'langostilla'. They get the name 'tuna crab' because they're a favorite meal for tuna! (Mmmm, crab-stuffed tuna...) Anyways, warm ocean currents may have carried them too close to shore for these little guys to avoid getting beached, but this happens sometimes when they swarm together in order to mate. So... that didn't go so well for them...

(photo: John Gibbins)

Read more about other crab strandings here and here, and here for krill!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

long lost family members

When you think of lobster relatives you probably picture crabs and shrimp, not cockroaches and dragonflies. But it turns out that they may be more closely related than we originally thought! Researchers recently came together during the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology meeting to discuss a reorganization of the family tree. Basically, instead of insects and crustaceans being separate branches, they may be part of the same branch called 'Pancrustacea':

This special symposium was co-organized by my Master's advisor friend, Sherry Tamone! In the past, researchers have noticed similarities between insects and crustaceans, but their methods for studying them differed. There are more genetic resources for insects while crustacean researchers focus on hormones (like me!). But, using this symposium as an example, they're coming together to find similarities. Take methyl farnesoate and insect juvenile hormone: they control growth and maturation in crustaceans and insects, respectively, but are inactive in their arthropod counter part. The link is that production of both are limited by the same enzymes!

sesquiterpenoids represent!

As Sherry says, "We should get comfortable eating crickets. It's all one big group." You can read more in Science and check out abstracts from the symposium here.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Crabs rock!

Check out this awesome Alaskan rock formation:

Choris Peninsula, Kotzebue Sound "Crab Claw"
66 16.020 N, 161 54.520 W

It's from the Alaska ShoreZone Coastal Mapping and Imagery program, which has tasked itself with documenting geographic and biological resources along the 6,640 miles of Alaskan coastline! (That's more miles than the rest of the coastal states combined!) From the ShoreZone description of this shot: "One of the few rock outcrops in Kotzebue Sound, near the south end of the Choris Peninsula. The bedrock is resistant to erosion and stands as near vertical rock cliffs." Now that's a large claw if ever I saw one!

(If you watch this video, you can see the helicopter footage of the Crab Claw at 42:40!)