Anthropology major researches lobsters

Posted July 14, 2006 at 2:25 pm · By ASU News
Filed under General, Research

BOONE – Appalachian State University anthropology major Robert Carson Thigpen III has spent nearly a year immersed in the culture of Caye Caulker, a small island off the coast of Belize that relies heavily on its fishing industry.

The oldest fishing co-operative on the island, the Northern Fisherman’s Co-operative Society Ltd. (NFCS), offered him an internship in January 2005. Through hard work and a little help from an international scholarship, Thigpen was able to stay in Belize for seven months to learn about the life of a lobster fisherman.

Thigpen’s experiences led to several research opportunities. After observing NFCS quality checks and noticing that many of the lobsters presented were gaining weight after they were caught, he decided to investigate further. Thigpen discovered that many fishermen saturate the tails of their catch in water before the quality checks begin causing the lobsters to be recorded as heavier than their true weight. As a result, many lobsters that are too young to have been able to reproduce are caught and passed off as weighing the legal limit.

The resulting research also drew conclusions about which sex of lobster is more likely to be harvested, and how likely it is that even if the lobster’s length is satisfactory, the tail weight is still sub-par according to NFCS standards.

Thigpen has presented this information and its potential effects on the sustainability of the spiny lobster species at both regional and international conferences, including a seminar at the Hughe Parkey Research Facility on Spanish Bay in the Cayman Islands and the Belize National Marine Science Symposium.

Thigpen continues his research on spiny lobsters and stone crabs in Central America with support from Sigma XI scientific research society, Appalachian’s Prestigious Scholars Program and Office of Student Research, and his faculty mentors Dr. Shea Tuberty and Dr. Susan Keefe.

Thigpen is a senior, scheduled to graduate in August 2006.