Population genetic structure of brown crab (Cancer pagurus) in Irish waters
The brown crab (Cancer pagurus) fishery in Ireland is one of the most important financially and socio-economically, with the species worth approximately €15m per year in the first half of the decade. Only mackerel (Scomber scombrus) and Dublin Bay prawn (Nephrops norvegicus) are of greater value. Despite this, very little research has been conducted to describe the stock structure of brown crab on a national scale. In this study a country-wide assessment of genetic population structure was carried out. Sampling was conducted from commercial fishing boats from 11/06 to 04/08 at seven sample sites representing the central Irish brown crab fisheries, with one sample site from the UK also included in the study. Six microsatellite markers, specifically developed for brown crab, were used to assess genetic diversity and estimate population differentiation parameters. Significant genetic structuring was found using F-statistics (Fst = 0.007) and exact tests, but not with Bayesian methods. Samples from the UK and Wexford were found to be genetically distinct from all other populations. Three northern populations from Malm Head and Stanton Bank were genetically similar with Fst estimates suggesting connectivity between them. Also, Stanton Bank, again on the basis of Fst estimates, appeared to be connected to populations down the west coast of Ireland, as far south as Kerry. Two Galway samples, one inside and one outside of Galway Bay, were genetically differentiated despite their close geographic proximity. It is hypothesised that a persistent northerly summer current could transport pelagic larvae from populations along the southwest and west coasts of Ireland towards Stanton Bank in the North, resulting in the apparent connectivity observed in this study.