Thursday, August 25, 2011

CT blue crab report #15

The Blue Crab Year -
The Search for Megalops – August 25, 2011-
Report #15 – Program Report #4
You do not need to be a scientist to report!

Reports 1 to 14 are available – email Tim Visel at

Back to School and “Thank you” for all the conversations and email reports
Possible Blue Crab Megalops Survey Sites Proposed
High School Research Projects – Shellfish Commissions, Research Papers, PowerPoint’s™, ISSP’s and graphs/charts.
Winter workshops for Megalops Volunteers
S.R.E. Supervised Research Experiences/Capstone Projects
Study Design for the 2012 Crab year

Back to School – Thank you for your help!

This report focuses upon the concept and research goals of determining Blue crab reproductive success in Connecticut waters. As such, most of the body of the report concerns the outline for high school students and citizen volunteers’ participation with shellfish commissions, conservation commissions or coastal land trusts. The project has a community outreach/reporting component and is important to research and Capstone work products described later in the report. With that said, it contains no current blue crab observations, but we still need to hear about any female crabs with exposed egg masses or “sponges” and the appearance of small 1 inch sized Blue Crabs. Anyone interested in observations of our Blue Crab year to date, please review reports 1-14. I want to thank all reporters / crabbers for their interest and support this summer. Your reports will help with the study design for next year.

The Search for Megalops is now entering a new phase, which will be also reported out- the actual collection and discussion of field samples. I anticipate at least two reports in September, hopefully on egg bearing female crabs and a new crop of Blue crab juveniles. So those reports and observations would be greatly appreciated.

Again many thanks for all the great observations and dockside conversations this summer. Looking forward to meeting with you hopefully at the winter workshops. Until then, great crabbing!

Tim Visel

The Ecologists and the Future

“Ecology is converting natural history into science, but in saying this, I do not mean to say that ecology is superior to natural history which is, of course, basic to it all. While we do well to acclaim the advance of exactitude, let us not under-rate the contributions of the naturalists who, in the spirit of explorers, have revealed for us the marvelous multiplicity of animal life and, by their descriptions, have given us the facts of their structures and habits. Discoveries by observation may be just as fundamental as those made by the experimental method.”

(Comments by Sir Alister Hardy – Fish & Fisheries, The Open Sea, Part II, 14 Saint James Place, London. Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy – University of Oxford. 1959, pg. 294-295.)

At this point a possible list of Megalops Survey Sites has been proposed and follows. This preliminary list may change. If someone would like to suggest a site, please do so. These are the list of sites as of August 17, 2011:

Greenwich – Anderson Road – upper Indian Harbor salt pond
Darien – Gorhams Pond (no site at present)
Stamford – Mill River, Rippowam (no site at present)
Fairfield – Ash Creek* (see note below) sand spit
Milford – Gulf Pond – Huntington Avenue Bridge
Bridgeport – Arthur Street shore
New Haven – Howard Avenue beach / Long Wharf flats
Guilford – Rt. 146 Bridge – Lost Lake
Guilford – Grass Island DEP Boat Launch Ramp
Madison – Tom’s Creek or Fence Creek (any established site)
Clinton – Lower Hammonasset River – Cedar Island Marina “mini park” (beach)
Westbrook –Kirtland Landing, Old Clinton Road / Menunketeseck River
Old Saybrook – North Cove Boat Ramp, North Cove Road
Old Saybrook - Rt. 1 Oyster River Bridge by Maynard’s Farm Market
Niantic (East Lyme)- Smith Cove (no site at present)
Waterford – Alewife Cove – Waterford Shore – Town Park
Waterford – Jordan Cove (no site at present)
Groton – Bakers Cove (DEP Boat launch ramp) end of Bayberry Lane
Stonington – Mystic River – (no site at present)
Stonington – Quanaduck Cove – (no site at present)

*Originally it was Perry Mill Pond, most likely the area that contains some of the densest Megalops sets but was advised by the Fairfield Conservation Commission that the area is undergoing an environmental cleanup of lead and a special advisory for harvesting blue crabs in the area has been issued.

The foundation for the Search for Megalops commenced in 2005 as a Sound School Grant Proposal to the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation. The original concept was to involve high school students in coastal monitoring of living marine resources. Shellfish spot sets, fish counts (census), shellfish surveys of inshore fisheries and terrapin studies were to complement habitat research. The Grant provided the Sound School with the opportunity to be exposed to monitoring with University and Agency researchers with Project Limulus, the study of the horseshoe crab, a NMFS-NOAA tagging and monitoring black sea bass and tautog among others. But in many respects the procedures and operation standards for scientific validation were hundreds of pages long, much too in-depth for high school curricular units. A meeting in August 2008 with Mark Tedesco, of the EPA who heads the Long Island Sound Study focused on what types of inshore monitoring activities were feasible and practical and how to design curricular units that over time could be incorporated into high school research projects. A key suggestion was to review what projects best fit the Sound School educational model. Mr. Tedesco felt that Project Search, the DEP program already in existence that has high school students involved in fresh water monitoring perhaps serve as a model. It is a good one to use as an example (see report # 12) that meeting led to a program called Project Finfish/Shellfish for Citizen monitors for a possible statewide fish census Project Finfish and a Nov 18, 2009 presentation to the Long Island Sound Habitat Restoration Initiative Project Shellfish. In the future it is hoped that a combined Project Finfish/Shellfish can be expanded to other species beyond Blue Crabs (Megalops) and included habitat studies such as manmade habitats including artificial reefs. Pilot studies for terrapins and fyke net fish counts (previously called a fish census) are nearly complete with pilot outlines for Coastal Conservation Commissions and Land Trusts. Pilot outlines and some program reports for these projects should be available this fall. The equipment and materials needed for the Megalops study are minimal and are detailed later in the report.

High School Research Projects – Shellfish Commissions, Research Papers, PowerPoint’s™, ISSP Proposal

At some point this year or next, it would be great if several schools could present projects or summary results at a conference, so to also incorporate a public speaking and presentation component(posters, graphs/charts, PowerPoint™ and oral reports)of research findings. There is so much we need to know about our shallow inshore habitats; almost any area would be of interest.

Shellfish Commissions and volunteers (crabbers) may also want to participate in the collection and send samples to other institutions. That is great (might pick up some helpful shellfish information) and please contact me at for further information and collection permit procedures.

I was also surprised this summer by the number of people who have microscopes at home. At this point, the Bridgeport Aquaculture School and the Sound School has the microscopes to review examples. The study outline will also be sent to all Connecticut Aquaculture Science and Technology Centers as perhaps a project to satisfy supervised agriculture experiences or SAE. The overall goal is to involve young people in real world application based learning experiences. Intrinsic to this experience is problem solving, critical thinking, task analysis, compare/contrast discussions and team work skills. Many school systems may recognize the above as 21st Century Skills, long a component in Agriculture Education here in Connecticut.

Cooperating School Districts and Proposed Monitoring

As part of the Sound School Inter-district Cooperative Grant Outreach Program, The Search for Megalops outline is going to be sent to every coastal high school. This project could become a social issues study as well as including climate change, economics and environmental policy components. The Yale Fellows Program has an outstanding existing compare/contrast curricular unit on Connecticut’s lobster die off from 1996. It is called Lobster Die-off! – An Event Based Science Unit.

It can be found at ( It is an excellent review of the dramatic decline of Connecticut Lobsters, as the Search for Megalops details the increase in Blue Crab populations during the same period. History classes may also find this project of interest as supplemental papers – The Great Heat – Amazing Seafood Gifts of Long Island Sound explains similar lobster declines and Blue Crab increases in Connecticut during the period 1890-1920. It also describes the rise of Theodore Roosevelt during the Great Heat Wave of 1896. They are available from Sue Weber at

High School Science classes most likely already have the bioscopes and microscopes needed to examine samples, and fits very nicely with the scientific method. Field survey operations and protocols – today called Quality Assurance Projection Plans QAPP and standard operating procedures or SOP can be incorporated into future curricular units. QAPP and SOP documents are very useful in standardizing data among many survey sites, but at this stage, this effort is just a presence and absence study. Can we find Megalops and in what densities? The study can be further divided into proposal, field collection, sample keys, recording and reporting segments. The actual field collection time should be minimal in four cases: Old Saybrook High School, Greenwich High School, and the New Haven and the Bridgeport Aquaculture Centers. The proposed collection points are only a short walk from the high schools. It should take only a few minutes to collect a sample.

Winter Workshops for Megalops Volunteers

This report is being sent to all Municipal Shellfish Commissions who may know of potential volunteers or interested schools. The Search for Megalops project could be suitable for both citizen monitors and high school juniors/seniors looking for a senior project/portfolio graduation project (called the Capstone Project by the State Department of Education). The Study Design should allow high school students the fall to conduct research, and some field visits. Blue crabs should still be in the shallows well into September for photographs/etc. Most high schools have some scientific or pathology grade microscopes to examine samples. The Sound School makes extensive use of Marine Animals of Southern New England and New York, [Identification keys to common nearshore and shallow water macrofauna] by Howard M. Weiss, Ph.D. During the winter, the Sound School will host a series of monitoring workshops and plans to invite biologists who have performed this type of shallow, estuarine communities’ surveys to share insights and survey information. The Winter Workshop schedule will be sent out in advance. If you would like to obtain information about this workshop schedule, please email Sue Weber at and ask to be put on the Adult / Outreach Education email directory. It is hoped that for every site we can identify a class, shellfish commission or volunteer who can collect a couple of samples.

Supervised Research Projects / State Graduation Capstone Projects, ISSP’s

For over a century high school students attending Agriculture Science and Technology Centers (formerly known as Vocational Agriculture Centers) have had a statutory obligation for having a planned supervised agriculture work experience program. (SAE) For Agriculture Education students, the senior year contained a special topics/portfolio project that is designed with consultation with the scope & sequence teacher. The addition of directed laboratories in the 1990s research projects can satisfy both the (SAE) and now the supervised Capstone graduation project. The Capstone Project description is as follows and also found on the State Department website:

“The Capstone Experience is a culminating activity that provides a way for students to demonstrate the knowledge and skills they acquired during their secondary school years of education. It engages students in a project/experience that focuses on an interest, career path or academic pursuit that synthesizes classroom study and real world perspective. High school students are asked to demonstrate their ability to apply key knowledge and skills by planning, completing and presenting a culminating project linked to one or more are of personal interest and the individual’s Student Success Plan.

The Capstone experience may include an in-depth project, reflective portfolio, community service and/or internship. As part of the experience, the student will demonstrate research, communication and technology skills including additional relevant 21st century skills.

Work on the Capstone Project may begin as early as 9th grade. Successful completion of a Capstone Project will earn the student one credit toward high school graduation.”

For more information about the Capstone Project, please contact:

Ann Gaulin, Consultant
CT State Department of Education
Scott Shuler, Consultant
CT State Department of Education
(860) 713-6746

For more information about the Capstone Projects in CT, please go to:

For the Sound School and its focus upon Aquaculture Science and Marine Technology we have for many years required an SOE (Supervised Occupational Experience) – both a plan and program documents to ascertain how that plan is fulfilled. Our general requirement is as follows:

Students must also complete an S.O.E. plan each and every year; their plan must support their employment or work experiences. The S.O.E. plan/form is the student’s responsibility and must be signed off by the student, parent/guardian, aquaculture / agriculture staff advisor and / or employer. Hours or credits for any S.O.E experience will not be awarded until the required paperwork has been received. Students should also get into the habit of also keeping track of their own S.O.E. hours in a notebook indicating dates and hours that they have worked, went on trips or any activities they participated in. This is helpful for both student and staff.

ISSP Research Proposals – Remaining Questions

Blue crabs do face uncertain winter carrying over, storms and predation by fish, especially starfish and could be all significant to population fluctuations. Spring floods and heavy rains could cause fresh water poisoning – toxicity. Serious questions remain if escaping adults make it past the very cold winters here at all, and combine again in the summer fishery. We really don’t know what our winter carrying capacity is or what habitat conditions favor the blue crab. It has been suggested that smaller stages prefer tidal creeks especially clam and oyster habitats.

High school students, with approved ISSP projects can survey small sections of shore bottoms (creeks) this spring and examine it under a microscope may help answer some of these resource questions. A review of the existing literature indicates that the critical Megalops stage is able to slow or even stop its development in the face of cooling temperatures. In March or April, blue crab larval stages should become active and begin to feed. Sampling under shells or soft shell clam beds should yield Megalops during this period from a settlement in September/October.

A second research question is that our crabs are Megalops that drifted out of the Chesapeake Bay got caught in the Gulf Stream and summer prevailing winds blew surface Megalops into Long Island Sound. Under this theory next year’s crabs are already here waiting to emerge this spring and start growing.

The severity of the winter, spring rains and storms all should be considered but at some point Blue crab larval forms need to exist. Where and at what densities remain large questions in seeking answers as to where our blue crabs come from. The present large populations remain largely unexplainable from existing Blue crab research studies here in Connecticut.

Perhaps some high school science students can help answer these questions as they have with the very successful DEP Program Project Search.

We look to the possibility of some for credit ISSP proposals from any interested Sound School students.

Independent Study and
Seminar Program
New Haven Public Schools

The contact person for the Sound School is Barbara Mente; other schools could also have ISSP programs. A quick call to your high school guidance director should be able to assist students from other school systems.

ISSP is one of Connecticut’s oldest and most established high school programs for talented and gifted students, having been in continuous existence since 1967. It is a program not only for gifted, but potentially gifted high school students as well. It may include a seminar, an independent study project, a college course, a special Yale-affiliated program, or working with a mentor.

The Study Design
Proposed for October 1, 2011

The initial start of the project will be the selection of various coastal sites in which to investigate the presence or absence of blue crab Megalops. The sites will represent areas known to contain adult or small crabs. The start of the project is to locate areas and determine if a habitat pattern/preference can be established. It is just a presence/absence study to find Megalops; a more precise survey sampling program is a future expansion dependent upon initial findings.

Thus the first step is to locate areas that might contain blue crab Megalops. The second step is to have students and volunteers survey some areas. A few years ago I attended the Project SEARCH volunteer winter training workshops held at Hammonasset State Park with Russ Miller in the Meigs Point Nature Center. I was very impressed with the volunteer training workshops and this winter similar workshops will be held at the Sound School.

Where to Look

Much of the available life cycle habitat studies have been done for the Chesapeake Bay region and southern areas. From published articles evidence indicates that Megalops can find shelter in a wide range of habitats, the most important being estuarine bottoms that contain shell or live shellfish especially the soft shell clam (steamer) Mya between low tide depth of 1 to 2 feet..

A second habitat/environment type is areas with good tidal circulation and sufficient oxygen (shallow 1 foot or less, not stagnant) and perhaps edges of eelgrass also. It is the edge of vegetation or the transition from non-structure smooth areas to habitats that have relief such as shell may perhaps be the best areas to look. It is also suspected that the same areas will contain worms, small shrimp species and sets of shellfish. Reports in some southern research papers speculate that the best Megalops areas often contain small and newly set soft set (steamer) clams (Mya). It is also thought that acidic bottoms – those with low pH and low oxygen are hostile to the Megalops stage. This habitat preference is one of the studying/monitoring objectives.

Proposed Sampling Methods

The type of gear proposed is a modified “D sampling net” with a very fine mesh net. The D net looks like a regular fish landing net with a flattened edge. It looks like someone pushed on it making the bottom edge flat, making it look like a letter D with a handle opposite the flat edge. The mesh is very fine because to the naked eye, a blue crab Megalops are very small, about the size of a flake of ground pepper.
In the Project SEARCH study, the freshwater stream currents direct riffle dwelling organisms into the collection net (device). To loosen these fresh water organisms a series of foot pounding (called kick stops) are employed to dislodge organisms into the current flow and then into the net. In the marine environment we don’t have that flow all the time to concentrate specimens so a different sampling procedure might work. A modified clam harvesting device (clam pounder) a descendant of the century old flounder pounder used in Niantic Bay in the 1880s may assist in collection. Rather than kicking the bottom a plumber’s helper is attached to D net handle and plunged three times. The small depression is then scooped with the D net. The rubber plumber’s helper can be purchased at hardware stores and attached with a metal screw operated pipe clamp. This device looks a little funny at first- a wood handle with a sampling net at one end and the plumber’s helper on the other. But, it is effective at suspending sub tidal organisms when employed as a University of Massachusetts Cooperative Extension agent in the 1980s I found it to be quite successful.

Sampling Protocols / Operations

Areas would be surveyed every two months, two samples about 1 meter apart. All samples should be 12 inches deep at low tide (this may change after the first fall surveys). Because these organisms are small, soft bodied, they are fragile and could break down before they can be keyed out. To help preserve the samples, the salt water will be stabilized and frozen.
To collect the sample, the organisms are so small they will cling to the collecting net, so a bulb type turkey baster will draw up a portion of a reduced in the net sample and deliver it into a collection jar. Don’t be surprised if you’re soon surrounded by silversides and killifish, bottom disturbances to these species are like ringing the dinner bell. But ample time should be available before visitors arrive in large numbers.
At this point, the sample will be stabilized most likely with an over the counter calcium tablet to buffer the sea water. The fragile Megalops body tissue is very soft and an acid water sample could possibly dissolve it. Samples can then be frozen and stored until keying out? Not certain, is this practicable?

Sound School Site – Control / Protocols Development

The Search for Megalops will involve several Sound School teachers; we plan to establish a sampling station at the Sound School as a Capstone Project. Taking a sample should only take a few minutes. A photo/narrative outline will be available December 1 and key protocols by November 15. A genetic study will be started with Chesapeake Bay researchers to see if the genetic differences or similarities can be established and interest in hatching/spawning some sponge crabs as part of an Aquaculture Biology class. A senior class aquaculture life teacher has planned to offer his senior students to look a blue crab habitat in terms of climate change.
We will also work with interested Guilford, Madison and Old Saybrook marine science classes with survey sites and sampling techniques; the Bridgeport Aquaculture School and the new Groton Marine Science Magnet School has expressed interest also. All of our information will be online and available by interested public, research or volunteers.
The project will commence in early September and sampling should start October 1st. A public workshop forum is now being discussed in which student projects/papers and PowerPoint’s™ will be presented to staff, researchers and members of the environmental community that would be scheduled sometime in the spring.



The sampling net we are considering is the BioQuip™ heavy duty aquatic net (no trade or product endorsement implied). They are the “D” shaped nets that allow greater bottom sampling area/contact. BioQuip™ makes a net from heavy cotton and polyester canvas, stitched with non rotting screen. They feature a white mesh (Nytex) screen placed about 8 inches below the canvas rim. Since the Megalops are very small, a bag with 150 micron screen is thought to be the best 7412-DN model.

Since the organisms are very small drying the net will have organisms clinging to the canvas and screen. It might be easier to do a water to water transfer by partially drying a corner of the net, but not completely. A suction device (it looks like an old fashioned turkey baster could be an option) could draw up a liquid sample and direct it into a sample jar or bag. Sea water is alkaline about 8.1 to 8.4 but samples after a heavy rain (fresh water tends to float over salt water) might be acidic so the addition of an over the counter calcium table could stabilize the sample until it is frozen. This is just one possible stabilization method at this point.

The Pounder-
This device dates back to the cold period or climate shortly after the Civil War when Connecticut was in a very cold decade in the 1870s. The coves would freeze up in eastern Connecticut including Niantic Bay. Winter flounder spear fishermen would cut holes in the ice in two basic areas: soft sediment or eelgrass for overwintering eels and clam beds for winter flounder. A large pole and wood rack or basket at the end would be pummeled into the bottom through the ice, dislodging worms, clams (breaking some no doubt) but attracting winter flounder (chumming). Some retired bay scallopers told me about their fathers using such a device- a precursor to the modern chum pot. After a few minutes, the flounder spear would be sent down the hole (you can still see these spear’s today for sale along the shore in antique stores). The basket soon found its way to a simple flat metal plate disk and the blacksmith shop. It too was fitted to a long pole and looked like a long plumbers helper – plunger. In the 1960s, this device was modified to catch sub tidal soft shells “steamer” clams and plunging for clams was frequent on Cape Cod and Rhode Island in the 1980s.

According to Phil Schwind, in a brief Chatham meeting 1982, populations of soft shells retreated to subtidal areas on the Cape in the 1950s and 1960s. It was thought that severe freezes then reduced the exposed tidal soft shell populations beginning in 1940s, the washing of clams in the subtidal areas began and the pounder became the plunger. It soon followed by trial and error that salt ponds contained significant soft shell clam populations. [This is not unlike some of the historical accounts from the Great Island soft shell clam flats off Old Lyme (1930s) of subtidal harvest with a special offset shovel and an old Colonial garden screen, back then called a “riddle”. CT soft shell production would soar during the Great Heat (1890-1920) but drop considerably in the colder period of 1960s.] In a 1970 booklet titled the Clam Shack Clammer (May 1, 1970 Printer Charles Thompson) Phil Schwind lists the plunger on page 35 as shellfish harvest equipment. He is generally credited with keeping this old method of subtidal soft shell clam harvest current from the past century.

The modern day plumber’s helper can still be purchased at most hardware stores and together with a screw fitted metal pipe clamp, it can be reinstalled at the end of the D net. So, the “pounder” and collection net is one device (as with catching clams years ago). You don’t’ need to plunge more than two or three times creating a slight depression (not a hole) – the organisms should settle in the depression and then collected with the D net end.

Cost equipment list –
o One 7412 DNM Aquatic net 12” D shape 150 micro mesh
Nylon Bag ($68.20) BioQuip™
(No product or trade endorsement implied). $68.20
o One metal screw fitted pipe clam (hardware store) $1.49
o One flexible plumber’s helper plunger (hardware store) (the existing wood handle is not used) $7.95
o One bottle of calcium supplement (drug store) $4.95
(Sample stabilization)
o Collection bottles/bags (various) (for freezing until collection) $10.00-$15.00
o The total cost (excluding microscopes and bioscopes to examine samples) is about $100.00.
o It is suggested that monitors wear “knee high” boots.
o You will need a microscope to examine samples.

If you are interested in becoming a Megalops monitor, please email me at the Sound School ( Although several educators have expressed looking for Megalops now and can do so. (I’m surprised at how many people already have microscopes at home.) I suggest workshops for interested monitors this winter. That way in the spring we may be able to assess surveyed Megalops. There is also a possibility that all Megalops monitors will need to be listed on a Scientific Collector Permit.

For now please continue to send in those observations and any locations of female sponge crabs. Even if it’s just one sponge crab, every observation is important. I’m especially interested in reports of very small blue crabs which should appear the end of August.

The continued reporting by many new and veteran crabbers is so valuable to our study and I thank each for their contribution this spring and summer; I hope they continue to send in reports to me.

Observations this year will help guide the survey methods for next year. Every observation is important you do not need to be a scientist to participate!

The Search for Megalops is part of a Project Shellfish/Finfish Student/Citizen Monitoring Effort Supported by a 2005 grant to The Sound School from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant #2005-0191-001.

All observations are valuable; please email them to me at

Program reports are available upon request.
For more information about New Haven Environmental Monitoring Initiative or for reports please contact Susan Weber, Sound School Adult Education and Outreach Program Coordinator – email to:

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