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Shellfish Assessment Program - Kodiak Laboratory

Kodiak Fisheries Research Center Seawater Facility

research tanks
Figure 1.  Kodiak Laboratory research tanks at the KFRC seawater facility.  Photo by Brad Stevens.

cold room
Figure 2.  One of the KFRC seawater facility cold rooms equipped for multiple species of phytoplankton cultivation.  Photo by Sara Persselin.

research technicians
Figure 3.  Two Kodiak Laboratory research technicians, Jordyn Donnellon (left) and Lindsey Bidder (right), holding research specimens (Paralithodes camtschaticus and Lithodes aequispinus).  Photo by Kathy Swiney.

The Kodiak Laboratory houses a state-of-the-art seawater laboratory at the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center (KFRC), a multi-agency Kodiak Island Borough-owned facility. The 707 m2 (7,610 ft2) area laboratory can deliver seawater at a rate of 757 L/min (200 gal/min) and is designed to be configurable in various arrangements. Currently the laboratory is configured with four 5,678 L (1,500 gal) round tanks, eleven 2,479 L (655 gal) round tanks, five 681 L (180 gal) rectangular insulated min-o-cool tanks, four 454 L (120 gal) rectangular tanks, and three 507 L (134 gal) rectangular tanks (Fig. 1).

The seawater intakes extend out to depths of 15 and 26 m in Trident Basin, which is located adjacent to the facility. Both raw and sand-filtered seawater run into the laboratory; filters and UV sterilizers of various sizes are used to sterilize seawater, and effluent is treated through an ozone contact system for disinfection. Water quality of incoming filtered and raw seawater and some experimental tanks are continuously monitored for temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, and pH. Additionally, nitrites and ammonia levels are tested weekly.

In the seawater laboratory, researchers have the ability to chill water in a recirculation system for experiments. The laboratory also houses various specialized systems such as a Kreisel system for rearing larvae, a system to collect recently hatched larvae of up to 48 individual females at one time, and salmon egg incubator trays modified to decrease cannibalism among juvenile crabs. Three cold rooms are also available in the seawater laboratory (Fig. 2).

Researchers from various RACE programs including Shellfish Assessment (SAP), Groundfish Assessment (GAP), Fish Behavioral Ecology, and Fisheries Resources Pathobiology have conducted research in the KFRC seawater laboratory in recent years. In addition, scientists from the AFSC's REFM and ABL Divisions, NWFSC, Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), University of Alaska Fairbanks, Oregon State University, Centro Austral de Investigaciones Científicas, and Alaska SeaLife Center have utilized the seawater laboratory.

To date, the majority of activities in the seawater laboratory have supported research focused on life history investigations of commercially important Alaskan crab species including red king (Paralithodes camtschaticus), blue king (P. platypus), golden king (Lithodes aequispinus) (Fig. 3), Tanner (Chionoecetes bairdi), snow (C. opilio), and Dungeness crabs (Cancer magister). Research has also been conducted on fuzzy crabs (Hapalogaster mertensii), which are closely related to king crabs, and may be used as a surrogate experimental species.

Life history research conducted for many of the above species includes: reproductive cycles; embryo development and morphology; timing and duration of larval hatching; comparison of reproductive parameters of females with different reproductive history (primiparous vs. multiparous); incubation periods; larval cultivation including differing diet, density and temperature parameters; juvenile and adult diet studies; settlement; substrate preference and survival of early life stages; cannibalism among various early life stages and juveniles; handling mortality; progression of bitter crab syndrome; respiration and metabolic rate measurements; larval fitness; and stress hormones. Microalgae, Artemia, and rotifers have been cultivated as larval food for many of the above studies.

The Groundfish Assessment Program has studied numerous commercially important fish species in the seawater laboratory. Staff have examined tagging techniques and associated mortality for Atka mackerel (Pleurogrammus monopterygius), Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus) and walleye pollock (Theragra chalcogramma). Baurotrama of swimbladders among gadids was examined by assessing swimbladder recovery. In addition, Pacific cod ageing techniques were validated, and spawning days to hatching and duration of hatch were reported. Developmental stages and growth of fertilized arrowtooth flounder (Atheresthes stomias) eggs held in different water temperatures were described.

The KFRC seawater laboratory has also been important in support of other studies that include a multiyear rockfish reproduction study, a postsurgery recovery venue for Steller's eiders (Polysticta stelleri) implanted with satellite transmitters, and as a staging area for holding crabs, fish, and eggs before sending them to other seawater laboratories.

Current research at the KFRC seawater laboratory includes projects from numerous programs and agencies. SAP and ABL biologists are examining the effects of ocean acidification on crab larvae by examining the effect of various pH levels on the survival, calcium content, and morphology of early life stages of blue and red king crabs. The SAP is addressing reproductive potential of Bristol Bay red king crabs by assessing reductions in fecundity during brooding and occurrence of unfertilized or nonviable eggs, and by assessing egg quality and larval fitness by female size and reproductive history. Mortality predictors are being developed for Tanner and red king crabs in a collaborative effort between the SAP and Fish Behavior Ecology Program. Efforts by the SAP are under way to better understand golden king crab reproductive cycles, embryonic development and larval cultivation. SAP is continuing to cultivate microalgae and Artemia for crab larvae food.

The GAP is conducting a preliminary study testing the feasibility of using age-0 arrowtooth flounder as a laboratory study species and determining proper conditions for cultivation. Reproductive biology of mature female snow and Tanner crabs and growth of immature snow crabs are being studied by ADF&G biologists. ADF&G staff are also observing the rate of biodegradation of cotton twine used on crab pots as a time-release escape mechanism.

Future research in the KFRC seawater laboratory is anticipated to involve numerous programs and agencies as well as increased collaboration between these groups. Ocean acidification research will continue in the seawater laboratory, and the laboratory is currently being outfitted with a CO2 gas delivery system which will allow researchers to manipulate carbonate chemistry that reflects oceanic conditions. Additional crab and invertebrate species will be studied as well as different life stages.

Reproductive potential of Bristol Bay red king crab will continue to be studied as described above. The SAP continues to refine culture methods for increasing survival of larval king crab in the KFRC seawater laboratory. The addition of live microalgae to the culture water of blue king crab larvae has optimized survival to the juvenile stages; this technique will be validated with red king crab larvae. Survival of larvae under rearing methods employed at KFRC will be compared to survival of larvae reared concurrently at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward, Alaska.

Future groundfish research will focus on examining the effects of temperature, salinity, and other environmental factors on the metabolic rates, feeding, and growth of key groundfish species such as arrowtooth flounder and Pacific cod. These data would be useful in developing bioenergetic models for these species and helpful in understanding the impacts of changing ocean environments on their populations in the Gulf of Alaska.

By Kathy Swiney

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