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Distributions of Dungeness crab (Cancer magister) zoea in the California Current: Closing a life history gap

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  • Dungeness crab (Cancer magister) is an important commercial species along the west coast of North America, and its population dynamics are highly influenced by interactions between environmental variability and early life history distribution. However, the distribution of the early larvae stages of Dungeness crab offshore is poorly known. To fill this knowledge gap, we examined the offshore distribution of Dungeness crab zoea in the northern California Current. Specifically, we examined the cross-shelf and vertical distribution of developmental stages of Dungeness crab zoea off the coast of central Oregon during late winter 2019. Based on what is currently known about Dungeness early life history, we hypothesized that 1) late stage zoea would be most abundant offshore and with a maximum at the shelf break, and 2) later stages would be found higher in the water column than early stagezoea. We conducted depth discrete sampling to 100 m in early March 2019 on the continental shelf, shelf break, and 80 km offshore off Newport, OR, during the day and night. Overall and stage-specific zoeal concentrations cross-shelf, by depth, and between day and night periods were identified and compared using ANOVA and MANOVA statistical tests. Overall concentrations of zoea were greatest over the continental shelf and shelf break, especially Stage V zoea, which was the most abundant stage found. Across all stages,the highest abundance of zoea remained in the upper 50m of the water column regardless of diel period, especially the upper 25 m. Back-calculated birth dates based on average larval duration found these larvae were hatched between mid-December to mid-February. These data will contribute to a more thorough understanding of Dungeness crab early life history and inform management of this highly valuable fishery.
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