|Researched by||Ken Neal & Emily Wilson||Refereed by||This information is not refereed.|
|Other common names||-||Synonyms||-|
Crab with a heavy, oval shaped body, easily distinguished from other species by its 'piecrust' edge and massive black tipped pincers. It is reddish-brown in colour with very large individuals having a carapace width of up to 25 cm although individuals are typically up to 15 cm.
Also known as the brown crab.
- none -
|Class||Malacostraca||Crabs, lobsters, sand hoppers and sea slaters|
|Typical abundance||High density|
|Male size range||5-27cm|
|Male size at maturity||11cm|
|Female size range||11.5cm|
|Female size at maturity|
|Body flexibility||None (less than 10 degrees)|
|Characteristic feeding method||Predator|
|Typically feeds on||A variety of live molluscs and crustaceans as well as carrion|
|Dependency||No information found.|
|Is the species harmful?||No|
Cancer pagurus is a large crab typical of hard and soft bottom communities. It is an active predator and consumes a variety of crustaceans (e.g. the green shore crab Carcinus maenas, the broad clawed porcelain crab Porcellana platycheles, the long clawed porcelain crab Pisidia longicornis, the hairy crab Pilumnus hirtellus and the squat lobster Galathea squamifera) and will also eat smaller members of their own species (conspecifics) (Lawton, 1989). Cancer pagurus also consumes a variety of molluscs e.g. the dog whelk Nucella lapillus, the winkle Littorina littorea (Lawton & Hughes, 1985), razor shells Ensis spp. (Hall et al., 1991), the blue mussel Mytilus edulis, the common cockle Cerastoderma edule and the oyster Ostrea edulis (Mascaro & Seed, 2001). Motile prey may be stalked and pounced upon, trapped under the abdomen and crushed with the chelae. Some prey is also ambushed from shelters under rocks (Lawton, 1989). In sediments Cancer pagurus may dig large pits to access bivalve molluscs such as Ensis sp. (Hall et al., 1991) and Lutraria lutraria. Cancer pagurus is mainly nocturnal, presumably to reduce predation by wolf fish, seals and cod (Skajaa et al., 1998).
Juveniles settle in the intertidal zone in late summer/ early autumn (Bennett, 1995) and remain there until they reach a carapace width (CW) of 6-7 cm (which takes about 3 years) before they move to subtidal areas (Regnault, 1994). Growth rate varies with age and gender. Between years 4-8 of a male crabs life, it grows at about 1 cm CW per year. After the 8th year, growth rate slows gradually to about 2 mm per year between its 16th and 20th years. Female growth rate is less, at about 0.5 cm per year between years 4 and 8, declining to 0.1 cm per year between years 16 and 20 (Bennett, 1979).
Size can be related to depth. In less than 25 m of water, males and females have a mean CW of 14 cm. Between 25 and 55 m, males are on average 17 cm CW and females 15.8 cm, over 55 m these sizes increase to 18 cm CW for males and 17 cm CW for females (Brown & Bennett, 1980).
|Physiographic preferences||Offshore seabed, Strait / sound|
|Biological zone preferences||Lower circalittoral, Lower eulittoral, Lower infralittoral, Mid eulittoral, Sublittoral fringe, Upper circalittoral, Upper infralittoral|
|Substratum / habitat preferences||Bedrock, Coarse clean sand, Cobbles, Fine clean sand, Gravel / shingle, Muddy gravel, Muddy sand, Pebbles, Sandy mud|
|Tidal strength preferences||Moderately Strong 1 to 3 knots (0.5-1.5 m/sec.), Weak < 1 knot (<0.5 m/sec.)|
|Wave exposure preferences||Exposed, Moderately exposed|
|Salinity preferences||Full (30-40 psu), Variable (18-40 psu)|
|Depth range||From intertidal down to 100 m|
|Migration Pattern||Non-migratory / resident|
|Reproductive type||Gonochoristic (dioecious)|
|Reproductive frequency||Annual episodic|
|Fecundity (number of eggs)||>1,000,000|
|Generation time||10-20 years|
|Age at maturity||10 years +|
|Season||November - February|
|Life span||20-100 years|
|Duration of larval stage||1-6 months|
|Larval dispersal potential||Greater than 10 km|
|Larval settlement period||Insufficient information|
This MarLIN sensitivity assessment has been superseded by the MarESA approach to sensitivity assessment. MarLIN assessments used an approach that has now been modified to reflect the most recent conservation imperatives and terminology and are due to be updated by 2016/17.
|Substrate removal is likely to remove a proportion of Cancer pagurus although some will escape. Those that escape undamaged will quickly recolonize whatever seabed remains and migrate to new habitats if necessary. Therefore an intolerance of intermediate and a recoverability of moderate have been recorded.|
|Low||Very high||Very Low||High|
|Shoreline dumping of coal waste and fly ash in the western North Sea filled in rocky crevices, precluding their use by Cancer pagurus. Crab fisheries have declined in the areas of dumping possibly due to Cancer pagurus avoiding the suspended matter or because the paucity of benthic fauna (i.e. prey) caused by heavy siltation. China clay waste from the Rivers Fal, White and Par in Cornwall had a similar effect (Shelton, 1973). However, crabs are able to escape from under silt and migrate away from an area. Smothering is unlikely to cause mortality therefore an intolerance of low has been recorded.|
|Shelton (1973) reported that Cancer pagurus avoided areas of spoil dumping and suggested this may be due suspended sediment or due to decreased macrofauna. Cancer pagurus relies on visual acuity to find prey so although mortality due to an increase in suspended sediment is unlikely, some perturbation is expected and low has been recorded.|
|Tolerant||Not relevant||Not sensitive|
|Cancer pagurus is not reliant on suspended sediment, therefore is unlikely to be affected by a decrease in suspended sediment and tolerant has been recorded.|
|Tolerant||Not relevant||Not sensitive||Low|
|Adult Cancer pagurus are very unlikely to be subject to desiccation because they are subtidal but are likely to survive at the benchmark level as they can survive up to 24 hours in moist air (Regnault, 1992). The juveniles in the intertidal seek shelter in moist microhabitats under rocks and seaweed (Lawton, 1989) and are likely to survive extended exposure in the short term and will migrate downshore upon emersion on the next high tide. Cancer pagurus survive for long periods in fish boxes waiting to be sold, therefore tolerant has been recorded.|
|Tolerant||Not relevant||Not sensitive||High|
|In an experiment on blood chemistry of emersed crabs, 60 Cancer pagurus survived exposure to air but under wet seaweed for 24 hours (Regnault, 1992). However, increased emergence will probably cause them to migrate down shore during a following period of immersion. An increase in emergence is unlikely to cause mortality or perturbation to Cancer pagurus and tolerant has been recorded.|
|Tolerant*||Not relevant||Not sensitive*||Low|
|Adult Cancer pagurus are subtidal and are unlikely to be affected by a decrease in emergence. Juveniles less than 3 years of age are mainly intertidal (Regnault, 1994) and a decrease in emergence is likely to be beneficial as it would increase foraging time. Therefore tolerant* has been recorded.|
|Tolerant||Not relevant||Not sensitive||Moderate|
|Cancer pagurus is highly chemosensitive and can quickly navigate to bait in a current of 0.1m/s. However, when the current speed rises to 0.3 m/s, only 15% of crabs on sediment could make headway, the others were swept away (Nickell & Moore, 1992). Therefore, crabs in strong current are unlikely to be killed but would probably be able to feed only by digging pits for buried bivalves (Hall et al. 1991) or ambush from the shelter of topographic features (Lawton, 1989), which may affect their rate of growth and maturity. Nevertheless, high current velocity bedrock habitats are likely to have a plentiful supply of food and provide refuge from the current due to habitat complexity and Cancer pagurus may benefit. The greater densities of edible crabs seen by Keith Hiscock (pers. comm.) were seen at the Smalls Rocks, Pembrokeshire and at Strangford Lough Narrows, both areas of very strong currents. Therefore tolerant has been recorded.|
|Tolerant||Not relevant||Not sensitive||Low|
|A decrease in water movement probably would not affect Cancer pagurus as it does not rely on water movement for feeding or gas exchange and tolerant has been recorded.|
|Any effect from an increase in temperature would depend on the time of year. Adult Cancer pagurus are not tolerant of temperatures over 20°C (Karlsson & Christiansen, 1996) and if an acute change of temperature occurred in summer when sea temperatures are already high, some mortality could occur. However, if an acute rise in temperature occurred in winter the only effect would be an increase in activity associated with a rise in metabolic rate. A chronic increase in temperature is unlikely to affect Cancer pagurus. An intolerance of intermediate has been recorded to account for the worst case scenario.|
|Tolerant||Not relevant||Not sensitive||Low|
|Cancer pagurus will not feed between 0 and 5°C (Karlsson & Christiansen, 1996) and embryos will not develop below 8°C (Thompson et al., 1995). Therefore if an acute decrease in temperature took the absolute temperature below 5°C, productivity of Cancer pagurus might be affected although mortality is unlikely. A chronic decrease in temperature is unlikely to affect Cancer pagurus at the benchmark level and tolerant has been recorded.|
|Tolerant*||Not relevant||Not sensitive*||Very low|
|The prey of Cancer pagurus includes various filter feeding bivalves (Hall et al., 1991; Mascaro & Seed, 2001) and filter feeding crabs (Lawton, 1989). The productivity of these prey items is likely to be increased by increased turbidity and thus improve the ratio of effort/predation success by Cancer pagurus and thus improve their productivity as well. An increase in suspended matter may reduce predation from visual predators such as seals and fish but is unlikely to affect the foraging of the crab as this is mainly chemosensory and tolerant* has been recorded.|
|Tolerant||Not relevant||Not sensitive|
|Adult Cancer pagurus are not dependent in any way on water-borne particles and are unlikely to be affected by a decrease in turbidity.|
|Low||Very high||Very Low||Low|
|No information was found on effect of wave exposure. However, edible crabs are found from very exposed to extremely wave sheltered sites. Wave exposure is likely to reduce activity at times and prevent crabs escaping to shallow depths. Therefore an intolerance of low has been recorded.|
|Tolerant||Not relevant||Not sensitive||Low|
|Cancer pagurus occurs in extremely wave sheltered loughs. Decreased wave exposure likelihood of displacement (a favourable effect) and increase food supply but may increase siltation. Overall, Cancer pagurus is probably tolerant to a decrease in wave exposure.|
|No information||Not relevant||No information|
|No information found|
|Low||Very high||Very Low||Low|
|Cancer pagurus is nocturnal and has reasonably good eyesight, any lights that are present in the water are likely to affect their activity patterns. Since they are predated upon by seals (Skajaa et al., 1998), large objects in the water such as divers may cause active crabs to seek refuge and inactive ones to remain so. An intolerance of low has been recorded because visual presence is unlikely to cause mortality but will probably alter its behaviour.|
|Berried Cancer pagurus are likely to be disturbed by dredging and trawls as they are relatively immotile and spend most of their time half buried in the sediment (Bennett, 1995). Abrasion is also likely to make Cancer pagurus vulnerable to Burn Spot Disease which may cause some mortality (Austin & Alderman, 1987; Vogan et al., 1999). Cancer pagurus is found in large numbers in scallop (Pecten maximus) beds (pers. obs.) which are commercially exploited by dredging. Cancer pagurus is often damaged or killed if struck by a dredge and annual mortality can be as much as 14% of the population (Bradshaw et al., 1999). Jenkins et al. (2001) found that 63% of Cancer pagurus struck by a scallop dredge sustained damage and 68% of those (43% of the total number struck) were killed. Mortality from otter trawls caused a 50% decline in Cancer pagurus numbers between 1947 and 1960 (Lindeboom, 1999). Cancer pagurus is a rather brittle animal, easily damaged or killed by heavy impacts, and an intolerance of intermediate has been recorded because, although a high proportion of individuals die as a result of scallop dredging, the whole population is unlikely to be affected.|
|Tolerant||Not relevant||Not sensitive||Moderate|
|Cancer pagurusis tolerant of being hauled into boats in crab pots and returned to the sea, with an increase in metabolic rate the only effect (Aldrich & Regnault, 1990). It also survives well when caught in pots and taken to laboratories and so is tolerant of being displaced within the marine environment (Regnault, 1992; Overnell, 1984).|
|Toxicity experiments with the oil dispersant BP1002 showed that a concentration of 10 ppm was required to cause 100% in 24 hours (Smith, 1968).|
|Cancer pagurus naturally accumulates metal, and levels of metals in the hepatopancreas have been recorded as high as 200 ppm copper, 29 ppm cadmium and 20 ppm zinc in crabs that were considered uncontaminated by anthropogenic input (Overnell, 1982, 1984). A solution of 1 ppm HgCl2 is lethal to Cancer pagurus (Bianchini & Gilles, 1996) but Cancer pagurus generally seems to be tolerant of metal pollution. Copper and zinc affected arterial blood oxygen levels and caused an increase in heart rate when accompanied by mild hypoxia (Spicer & Weber, 1992). Solutions containing cadmium significantly inhibited gill adenosine phospatase (ATPase) activity at 10 and 100 ppm in short pulses (Law, 1982). Protracted exposure to low concentrations of cadmium lead to a 22% drop in gill ATPase activity which will affect the crabs ability to control the ionic balance of the body tissues (as this is one of the main requirements of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the gill) (Law, 1982). Apart from mercury, most metals seem to be non-toxic to Cancer pagurus as they are sequestered by metallothioneins and stored in the hepatopancreas for excretion later (Knowles et al., 1998; Overnell, 1982; 1984; 1986; Smith et al., 1998). Due to the detoxification of metals with metallothioneins, Cancer pagurus is unlikely to suffer mortality unless inputs are very high and an intolerance of low has been recorded.|
|Adult Cancer pagurus are unlikely to be directly oiled because they are subtidal. Many intertidal juveniles were found dead after the Torrey Canyon oil spill and some dead adults were found subtidally, although healthy individuals were found as well (Smith, 1968). The adults affected subtidally may have been killed by dispersants and not oil. After the Sea Empress oil spill, Cancer pagurus were found to have total hydrocarbon content of 10 mg/kg wet weight in claw meat and 20 mg/kg wet weight in the hepatopancreas (Law et al., 1997). Paradoxically, this increased the Cancer pagurus population in the region of the Sea Empress spill since the 0.1 - 2.4 mg/kg wet weight concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) tainted the flesh of the crab and led to the closure of the fishery for at least a year eliminating fishing mortality (SEEEC, 1998; Law et al., 1998). Cancer pagurus in the vicinity of the Braer oil spill contained more than 12 times the PAH concentration of unaffected crabs (Topping et al., 1997). As with the Sea Empress, no mortality resulted from PAH contamination but the crab fishery was closed for a short time to allow PAH elimination (Topping et al., 1997). An intolerance of intermediate has been recorded to account for the worst case of juveniles being killed by oiling and possibly affecting the future of the population.|
|No information||Not relevant||No information||High|
|Cancer pagurus accumulates technetium, a radionuclide of anthropogenic origin, in the hepatopancreas bound by metallothionein (Knowles et al., 1998). Accumulated metal can be excreted once exposure has ceased and experimental Cancer pagurus cleared half of the accumulated technetium in about 100 days (Smith et al., 1998). Due to the detoxification of metal by binding it to metallothioneins, Cancer pagurus may be tolerant but the effect of radiation during decay of radionuclides is unknown. Therefore no assessment of intolerance has been made.|
|Tolerant||Not relevant||Not sensitive||Very low|
|Anthropogenic sources of nutrients may cause blooms of phytoplankton which collapse and precipitate onto the benthos and can cause localised bottom water hypoxia. In a benthic survey after such a bloom collapse, a few dead Cancer pagurus were found but most were healthy, probably because it is tolerant of hypoxia (see oxygenation). However, benthic bivalves such as Ensis were found dead and moribund (Boalch, 1978). Immediately after the precipitation of the bloom, foraging by Cancer pagurus was probably improved as it preys upon Ensis (Hall et al., 1991). However, if the bivalve populations were slow to recover, population dynamics on Cancer pagurus may be affected. On the rocky shore, nutrient input has been shown to increase productivity of grazers due to increased algal growth (Rogers, 2003). Since juvenile Cancer pagurus consume intertidal gastropods (Lawton & Hughes, 1985), an increase in prey biomass is likely to benefit growth of Cancer pagurus. Tolerant has been recorded because Cancer pagurus is unlikely to be directly affected by nutrient input and there could be positive and negative effects on the prey of Cancer pagurus.|
|No information||Very high||No information||Low|
|Cancer pagurus is an osmoconformer (Wanson et al., 1983) and is probably tolerant to slight increases in salinity but may be affected by acute increases. However, no information has been found on the effect of hypersaline conditions on Cancer pagurus and therefore no assessment has been made.|
|Adult Cancer pagurus are osmoconformers, meaning that they maintain the ionic balance of the haemolymph at a similar concentration to the surrounding water but they are intolerant of salinities below 17 psu. Juveniles (5-10 cm CW) are mainly intertidal and are tolerant of low salinities (Wanson et al., 1983). Cancer pagurus loses osmoregulatory ability when it moves from the intertidal to the subtidal at about 3 years of age (Regnault, 1992). Intertidal populations of Cancer pagurus are probably tolerant of decreases in salinity. However, subtidal adults are likely to be adversely affected by low salinities e.g. from hyposaline effluents. Cancer pagurus is a very mobile species and would probably avoid hyposaline water and therefore an intolerance of low has been recorded.|
|Tolerant||Very high||Not sensitive||High|
|Cancer pagurus responds to hypoxia by increasing the efficiency of oxygen extraction from the water by its gills (Aldrich & Regnault, 1992; Spicer & Weber, 1992). Cancer pagurus can survive for at least 18 hours in oxygen-depleted conditions (Spicer & Weber, 1992) and can probably survive longer.|
|Cancer pagurus can contract Burn Spot Disease and Pink Crab Disease. The former is caused by bacterial (especially species of Vibrio) or fungal infections of epicuticular penetrations caused by abrasions or intraspecific aggression (Austin & Alderman, 1987; Vogan et al., 1999). Burn Spot Disease causes blackened lesions of the shell and melanisation of the flesh, which decreases the market value of the crab (Vogan et al., 1999). Mortality occurs in extreme infections when bacteria penetrate the shell and enter the body fluids or when lesions cause the old shell to stick to the crab during moulting (Austin & Alderman, 1987; Vogan et al., 1999). Prevalence of the disease can be high, e.g. 55% of crabs in Langland Bay, Gower had lesions and infection levels can be higher in heavily polluted waters. Cancer pagurus can rid itself of shell disease by moulting (Vogan et al., 1999). Pink Crab Disease is so named because affected crabs become hyperpigmented and it is caused by an infection of a Hematodinium-like dinoflagellate. It is a rare disease but infected individuals become moribund and mortality is high (Stentiford et al., 2002). An intolerance of intermediate has been recorded.|
|Not relevant||Not relevant||Not relevant||Not relevant|
|Cancer pagurus is not known to compete with or be affected by any non-native species.|
|All around Britain and Ireland there are substantial fisheries for Cancer pagurus (Bennett 1979; 1995; Brown & Bennett, 1980; Eaton et al., 2001; Fahy, et al., 2002; Howard, 1982), which although causing significant mortality, are regulated by minimum landing sizes introduced in the 19th century. Also the biology of Cancer pagurus protects the sustainability of the fishery as berried females do not feed and are rarely caught in baited pots (Howard, 1982). Therefore an intolerance of intermediate has been recorded.|
|Low||Very high||Very Low||Very low|
|Many of the prey items of Cancer pagurus are also commercially exploited especially large bivalves. If populations of prey items were overexploited it is likely that the populations of Cancer pagurus would either decrease or growth would be slower leading to later maturation.|
- no data -
|National (GB) importance||-||Global red list (IUCN) category||-|
|Origin||Not relevant||Date Arrived||NA|
The southwest England fishery extends from Beachy Head to Lands End (Brown and Bennett, 1980) and there are also significant fisheries in North Norfolk, close to the River Humber (Eaton et al., 2001) and off the south-east Irish coast (Fahy et al., 2002). Cancer pagurus is caught in baited traps and highest catches are from June to November when large numbers of non-berried females are caught (Brown & Bennett, 1980). The males fetch a higher price as they are larger and females are usually processed into frozen white and brown meat (Brown & Bennett, 1980) or sold as bait for whelks Buccinum undatum (Fahy et al., 2002). Landings in the UK are restricted to crabs of a certain carapace width (CW). This Minimum Landing Size (MLS) varies somewhat. For example, the MLS for males is 16 cm in both Devon and Cornwall although for females it is 14 and 15 cm respectively. In Dorset and Hampshire the MLS if 14 cm for both male and female brown crabs. Because of the poor quality of the flesh, landing of berried or recently moulted ('soft' crabs) is banned (Brown & Bennett, 1980).
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Law, R.J., Kelly, C.A., Grahan, K.L., Woodhead, R.J., Dyrynda, P.E.J. & Dyrynda, E.A., 1997. Hydrocarbons and PAH in fish and shellfish from southwest Wales following the Sea Empress oil spill in 1996. In: American Petroleum Institute. Proceedings. 1997 International Oil Spill Conference. pp 205-211., Washington DC: American Petroleum Institute.
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Law, T., 1982. The uptake, distribution and biochemical effects of cadmium in the edible crab Cancer pagurus. (M.Phil. thesis), M.Phil. Thesis, Bristol Polytechnic, Science Department.
Lawton, P. & Hughes, R.N., 1985. Foraging behaviour of the crab Cancer pagurus feeding on the gastropods Nucella lapillus and Littorina littorea: comparisons with optimal foraging theory. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 27, 147-154.
Lawton, P., 1989. Predatory interaction between the brachyuran crab Cancer pagurus and decapod crustacean prey. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 52, 169-179.
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Naylor, J.K., Taylor, E.W. & Bennett, D.B., 1999. Oxygen uptake of developing eggs of Cancer pagurus (Crustacea: Decapoda: Cancridae) and consequent behaviour of ovigerous females. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 79, 305-315.
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Nickell, T.D. & Moore, P.G., 1992. The behavioural ecology of epibenthic scavenging invertebrates in the Clyde Sea area: laboratory experiments on attractions to bait in moving water, underwater TV observations in situ and general conclusions. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 159, 15-35.
Overnell, J., 1982. Copper metabolism in crabs and metallothionein: In vivo effects of copper(II) on soluble hepatopancreas metal binding components of the crab Cancer pagurus containing varying amounts of cadmium. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, 73B, 555-564.
Overnell, J., 1984. The partition of copper and cadmium between different charge-forms of metallothionein in the digestive tubules of the crab, Cancer pagurus. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, 77C, 237-243.
Regnault, M., 1992. Effect of air exposure on nitrogen metabolism in the crab Cancer pagurus. Journal of Experimental Zoology, 264, 372-380.
Regnault, M., 1994. Effect of air exposure on ammonia excretion and ammonia content of branchial water of the crab Cancer pagurus. Journal of Experimental Zoology, 268, 208-217.
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Smith, J.E. (ed.), 1968. 'Torrey Canyon'. Pollution and marine life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Spicer, J.I. & Weber, R.E., 1992. Respiratory impairment by water-borne copper and zinc in the edible crab Cancer pagurus (L.) (Crustacea: Decapoda) during hypoxic exposure. Marine Biology, 112, 429-435.
Stentiford, G.D, Green, M., Bateman, K., Small, H.J., Neil, D.M. & Feist, S.W., 2002. Infection by a Hematodinium-like parasitic dinoflagellate causes Pink Crab Disease (PCD) in the edible crab Cancer pagurus. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology, 79, 179-191.
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Last Updated: 08/05/2008