King-sized feasts lurking deep in NZ waters

17:00, Jun 28 2010
Shane Ahyong
GIANT NIPPER: Niwa scientist Shane Ahyong with one of the 14 new varieties of king crabs he has discovered in New Zealand waters. King crab meat is highly prized overseas.

New Zealand king crabs more than a metre long are being eyed up for the dinner table.

The author of a new study into the species has described New Zealand as the "king crab capital of the world" after the discovery of 14 new kinds in our waters.

The new varieties have been officially named by National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research scientist Shane Ahyong, who said his research could help to determine whether the potentially valuable crabs could be commercially harvested.

The official naming of the new species was exciting acknowledgement of the vast range of diversity in marine species in the southwest Pacific compared with other parts of the world, he said.

"There really are more species in this part of the world. The more we look, the more we find."

King crabs, which grow up to 1.2 metres long, are already a valuable commodity for fishermen in the northern hemisphere.

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Dr Ahyong has been studying king crabs since 2007, and said there were now known to be 23 varieties in the New Zealand, Australian and Ross Sea regions.

In the entire Atlantic, where research had been under way for a longer period, there were known to be 30 species.

Knowing which ones were in New Zealand waters would help guide studies into whether it would be sustainable to fish for them in certain locations.

A spokesman for the Fisheries Ministry said exploratory fishing had begun to determine the feasibility of a deepwater crab potting fishery.

The crabs could be marketed as "high-value species" to Europe, Asia and the United States if they were caught in pots, as they would be landed in better conditions than those caught by trawling and could be exported alive.

Dr Ahyong said the lifespan of king crabs was not yet known, but species overseas could take four to five years to reach maturity.

All king crabs seemed to be right-handed, using one claw for cutting and the other for crushing.

The Dominion Post