Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Electronic harvest reporting - Maryland pilot study with EDF

The Environmental Defense Fund and Maryland's Department of Natural Resources intiated a pilot study in 2012 to try out electronic reporting of crab harvests. Electronic reporting was easier and faster for most watermen and provided DNR with accurate, timely information on harvests. Watch this video and read their Dec. 12, 2012 blog post to find out more (http://blogs.edf.org/edfish/).

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Crab Knuckle Banding - Keep Your Hard Crabs Alive

Here's some interesting information from Tim Visel of "The Search for Megalops." I meant to post it this summer, but it got lost in the busy field/crab season. Photo credit: Abigail Visel.

Blue Crab Information for Fishermen

Knuckle Joint Banding Process - The Knuckle Bander®

Willard Visel– September 2010

Timothy C. Visel

Updated, August 2012

Reducing Capture Mortality in the Recreational Blue Crab Fishery


“Photographs of Banding Process

Now Available by Abigail Visel”



The Blue Crab is a popular seafood species.  It habitats coastal bays along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and is found on many seafood menus offered by shoreline restaurants.  As such over 90% of the catch is served hot/steamed; almost no consumer (home live purchase) market exists contrary to the American lobster.  The reasons for this difference can be found in the painful bite of the blue crab claw – an aggressive feature that excludes most live purchases for post harvest retail operations.


Most blue crabs are marketed in dry bushel baskets where shipping and claw mortality is high sometimes over 50% in warm weather.  Because of the unrestrained claws fighting mortality continues in both dry and wet (tank) sea water systems.  The blue crab is an aggressive cannibal that crushes other crabs and makes package for retail (home) purchases nearly impossible.  Between shipping and holding mortalities it is not uncommon that 50% perish before cooking.  Because the product is kept cool and quickly steamed in large quantities the industry has not invested in live retail sales.  Few fish markets can handle live hard shell blue crabs and consumers purchasing them live face injury.  This has caused per piece crab purchases by consumers from live retail markets to be virtually unknown. 


The Knuckle Bander (banding process) has been developed by Willard Visel of 10 Blake Street, Ivoryton, CT (2010).  First attempts included banding the claws together in an outreached position but that resulted in an unnatural position, making packing and storage difficult.  After numerous other attempts to control claw movements a modified Lobster Claw Banding tool was used to band the blue crab knuckle (claw point) but not the claw.  This has resulted in a normal appearing crab but its claws have now been held (restricted) to its body – making aggressive attack virtually impossible.  This has resulted in benefits to the retail operator (several have reported to Will that mortality has dropped to almost zero) and made retail sales (per piece) possible.  Reports from market sales and direct consumer sales have been very positive with many comments “why didn’t someone think of this before.”


This could impact the entire blue crab industry as home sales is at zero now and most people who like crab do so themselves and handle the product as a recreational fishing activity. 


At present a bushel of hard shell “jimmies” retail sells for $120 dollars and contain about 80 crabs, which when shipped in a dry basket 50 crabs arrive alive, (comments from area fish markets) and subject to another 25% 48 hour holding loss – so a retail per piece is about $4.50 a crab beyond the retail market.  At $1.50 each to $2.00 each large live (Jumbo 6 to 6.5”) crab (no mortality) retail stores can offer live crabs about $3.00 to $3.50 each (live Jumbos) with almost no mortality and have a product that consumers can more safety handle.  The claw itself is not banded, only the knuckle – but similar to the American Lobster, only a reduction to getting bitten has reduced the hazards of purchasing them.  The same band that is used to band lobster claws is used to band the knuckle joint of the blue crabs.


Since 2007, about 1,000 banded blue crabs have been sold or consumed without a complaint, only “praise.”  When kept moist they have held well in cooler storage in recirculation tanks; no live crabs experienced claw loss or injury.  This has opened markets for consumers who cannot crab for themselves – elderly, non-mobile and others who cannot catch (have access) on their own.  A demand exists for live blue crab in sauces or steamed with Old Bay™ seasoning; water steamed and picked crab meat.  A significant market exists that could benefit from such a process.  Live blue crabs could soon become a regular item at seafood stores along the coast.  Bands are to remain over the joint until cooking is completed - the same as with the lobsters.


The Process –


The crab is placed into a low sided plastic tub or “banding box.” The operator using the bander, wearing heavy gloves positions the crab so the claws are in the swimming – non attack or fighting position the knuckle (or elbow) protrudes to accept a heavy rubber band around the joint. Willard uses the standard lobster claw bander and lobster bands available commercially.  A modified lobster band tool (a large jaw) is used to open a rubber band and pushes it over the claw joint.       


A repeat of the process is done to the remaining claw.  When complete both claws are now in the swimming, not attacking (biting) position.  Crabs can continue to walk, swim and breathe in seawater with no effects.  Although the crab can still bite, it prefers to keep quiet in the cooler (no fighting) and handled easily by the rear.   


The banding process for the hard shell blue crabs is believed to be unique to Willard Visel’s blue crab marketing operation (2010).


Update: August 2012 – Tim Visel

Willard fished for crabs with a friend, Dave Krug in 2010.  Soon after this fact sheet was produced sidewalk stands in the Old Saybrook area opened and had signs: 2 blue crabs for 50 cents and the market for live banded crabs soon disappeared.  The operation had Will and Dave working in a team, one would crab, the other would band.  It (the banding worked well) and certainly makes handling the crab easier.  Crabs held in recirculation systems at the Sound School lived 40 days without any significant mortality.


This information is being released now as a way to reduce recreational blue crab catch loss; several crabbers have commented about this loss and crab spoilage in high heat.  I have seen several buckets of crabs lost from bleed out from fighting, injuries the past two weeks and crabs, like lobsters, spoil very quickly in high heat. It has been very hot of late. 


In summary these crabs are too valuable to waste, a current market guide from southern areas list $165/bushel with about 75 crabs to the bushel, slightly over $2.00 a crab.  Live shipments from southern states often contain a summer shipping disclaimer.  Thirty percent may perish during the trip north; the gills dry and in high heat crabs quickly die.  Keeping crabs cool, uninjured and gills moist is the key to reducing holding and shipping losses.


Injury from claw damage fighting is the leading (cause for significant recreational mortality, crab “blood” so to speak is hard to see but upon close examination it appears a slightly bluish almost translucent “jelly”.  It is a soft and rubbery and difficult to clot in warm weather.  Although summer crabbers keep crabs in small pails of water, in hot weather they often run out of oxygen and also perish by suffocation.


Lastly, banding makes handling easier and assists packing in coolers for the trip home.  This summer I have seen some crabbers fill a five gallon bucket pail with large crabs (about 40 in numbers) only to see massive injury bleeding and most likely high crab losses for a long day in hot weather.


Then under the Process section change clumped to placed, the crab is placed


 “Photographs Of Banding Process Now Available Photographs by Abigail Visel”


Several recent conversations with crabbers especially over the August 4-5 weekend in which I observed significant capture mortality, two crabbers were interested in the banding process, but without pictures it was very difficult to explain or describe.


They asked if some photographs showing the process were available on line and I did not think so, and they thought seeing pictures of the process and tools would Help.  A local bait and tackle store Captain Morgan’s of Madison felt the same way.  Could I do a demonstration?  On August 4 at 8:30 am I tried the Clinton Town Crab Float on the Indian River at a low tide.  I only needed a couple of crabs for the Captain Morgan demonstration and this has been a good spot.  At 74 degrees and low tide I had 22 shorts (mostly 3 to 4 inch males and two 5.25 crabs) in one hour--enough for a quick demonstration but not  indicative of the sizes caught recently.


I then tried the Essex town dock for two crabs for Abigail to photograph that evening, again needing only two and at 6:10 pm the tide had just turned at 74 degrees  it was a little warm but I put in five lines with chicken legs; Immediately I  had hookups and started catching 6 to 7 inch crabs.  While this was happening I met and talked with Ronald Angelo of the Connecticut Department of Economic Development who watched as all five lines were being pulled of the dock.  Final count, 45 minutes of fishing, 21 large crabs.  Between 6 and 7.5 inches, missed 8 returned 6.  The photographs of the banding process has a 6.5 inch and 7.5 inch crab.  The set of photographs are available from Susan.weber@new-haven.k12.ct.us



I’m always open to ideas and suggestions about the process.


Email: Tim.Visel@new-haven.k12.ct.us

Friday, October 5, 2012

2011 Gulf Coast Landings; Fishery Disaster in Mississippi

A week ago I posted the new 2011 blue crab fishery landings data for the East Coast. Now It's the Gulf Coast's turn. Landings were up a bit in Louisiana, Alabama, and the West Coast of Florida while remaining stable at low levels in Mississippi and dropping a bit in Texas. All in all, a mixed bag.

The blue crab fishery is hurting in Mississippi, where massive releases of fresh water in 2011 caused dramatic changes in salinity in Mississippi Sound. In response, the Acting Secretary of Commerce issued a fishery disaster declaration for the blue crab and oyster fisheries in September 2012. This declaration cleared the way for federal disaster relief funding. Read more about the declaration and status of the Mississippi fishery here.

Friday, September 21, 2012

2011 Official crab landings released

The official 2011 blue crab landings figures have been released by the National Marine Fisheries Service. You can search for landings of any species in any state from 1950-2011 in their database here.

I graphed the landings data for hard crabs only (in metric tons) for states on the East Coast with at least 1000 metric tons of landings. There's good news in the mid-Atlantic, with landings continuing to show improvement over the low numbers of the last decade. It's a different story in the southeast, where landings ticked up a bit but remained low. Please note that I have added 11,000 metric tons to the Maryland landings data from 1950-1980 to account for a change in reporting requirements that significantly increased reported landings.

Friday, September 7, 2012

2012 Connecticut Blue Crab Report #9

From Tim Visel of "The Search for Megalops"

The Connecticut Blue Crab Population and Habitat Study 2010-2015
The Sound School – The ISSP and Capstone Project Proposal
Building a Network of Citizen Monitors
The Search for Megalops
Report 9 – August 30, 2012
You Do Not Need To Be A Scientist To Report!
Reports 1 through 8 (2012) available upon request:
Reports 1 to 12, 2011 also available on Archive Section http://www.bluecrab.info/
and both years on the Blue Crab Blog  http://bluecrabblog.blogspot.com/
Program Reports 1 to 5 are also available from Tim Visel at tim.visel@new-haven.k12.ct.us
·         Back to School – Thank you for all your comments and suggestions.  A review of our CT Blue Crab season to date – future student Capstone projects in 2013.
  • Keep Those Crabs Alive – The Knuckle Blue Crab Banding Process – Regional Bait and Tackle stores will demonstrate the technique – and carry supplies.
  • Large Hard-shell Crabs Move East to Connecticut River.  Crabbing surges in Central Connecticut-again!
  • Special Report, The Connecticut River Trap Fishery --  A Trotline Experiment from 2010.
Back to School – Thank you for all your comments and suggestions –
Our CT Blue Crab Season To Date
It’s the end of August and beginning of another school year.  We have a new freshman class entering the Sound School this week, but will try to get at least one report out in September, October and November.  It’s been an interesting blue crab season quite different than 2011 but similar to 2010.  A large difference was the absence of crabs in western Connecticut but the central section including the New Haven Harbor area had the largest populations – eastern populations are just showing up now and crabbing generally has been good in the central and eastern towns the past two weeks.
It’s been however, a disappointing crab season for the western Connecticut crabbers, as very productive areas last year had little or no crabs this year.  While central sections in 2011 had a poor year when compared to 2010, this year the place to crab was between West Haven and Old Saybrook.  Later it appears as if a very large group of crabs (thought to originate in New Haven and adjacent offshore areas) moved to the east to the Connecticut River the third week in August.  Last year it was thought that masses of crabs moved east from the Housatonic River.  During the second week of August, large hard shell crabs were detected in Branford then Guilford, Clinton Harbor on August 18, Old Saybrook and Oyster Rivers, 18 -20th then into the Connecticut River on the 21st to 24th.
Adding to the mystery was the age and condition of these crabs (see next section).  They did not resemble the bright blue and white shells of the earlier spring and summer blue crabs; instead these crabs were larger and had very hard shells, brown colorations and showing numerous wounds and re-grown claws.  Crabbers between Branford and Essex noticed the difference and a brilliant yellow faced crab was caught off the Essex Town Dock Sunday on August 26 by William Doane of Essex.  Yellow face crabs were mixed in with this population and crabs over seven inches spike to spike were common.  Reports of catching crabs 9 inches or more were frequent.
Many crabbers have asked about the dramatic increase in female sponge crabs, in Bridgeport, Fairfield and Clinton Harbor this spring.  We just don’t know why they select these areas but several crabbers have suggested the dredged channels might be providing habitat refugia from more saline predators including starfish and conch species.
The best indication of the fishery for next year came from Steve Joseph (an aquaculture teacher here at Sound School) and his son Kelly who over the weekend filled a small minnow seine with post Megalops crabs off Branford CT.  He was able to catch some for a short video and photograph these small crabs in the palm of his hand only a half of an inch long (you can see the crab waving two fully formed claws around).  Steve noticed that predation on these small crabs was already intense. Fish were actively consuming them in large numbers along the beachfront. Steve Joseph remarked the whole shore area was full of small crabs, too numerous to even estimate the amount.
I want to thank all the crabbers who sent reports and provided observations this summer; they are important and add to our understanding of our blue crab population.  I have altered my position on overwintering, believing once that all blue crabs are eliminated by our cold winters –fresh water runoff and salt water predators.  This latest migration of older crabs has changed that perspective.  That is not happening, I still believe the CT River fishery is unique and nearly all the crabs are subject to the spring freshwater runoff and believe that to be true except for perhaps North Cove in the federal dredged harbor area.
To be honest, from past fishery reports we just haven’t seen blue crab populations this large since the 1908-1918 period.  The number one environmental concern during this previous warm period was malaria spread by mosquitoes during that climate segment known as The Great Heat.  Many coastal communities in Connecticut started during this period (1880-1920)and journals from the early Groton Long Point Community campers contain accounts of escaping the city heat to go blue crabbing.  The best blue crabbing it seems was in the coves and bays surrounding Noank a century ago.
The 2012 fall crab fishery looks to be a good one for central and eastern CT with the number of large crabs now, it seems we may see new state records.
Attention will next focus on the extent and survival of the Post Megalops crab populations in western Connecticut.
This fall, the Search for Megalops will be divided into several Sound School Student Capstone and ISSP research projects – even the writing of the Search for Megalops Reports should have student governance.  Some Sound School students have already started collecting data on Blue Crabs during the summer – please look for those reports in the spring of 2013.
Thanks again for all the reports this summer.
Tim Visel
Keep Those Crabs Alive – The Knuckle Banding Process
Several Central Connecticut Bait and Tackle stores have agreed to demonstrate the Crab Banding procedure and carry the industry lobster banders and lobster bands.
These are the stores cooperating to date (no trade or product endorsement implied)
Captain Morgan’s Bait & Tackle
3 Boston Post Road, Madison CT
Captain Morgan has a bander kit available, the kit consists of a lobster bander, leather gloves and bands.

Tidewater Bait & Tackle
362 Boston Post Road
Westbrook, CT
Peter Palmieri will demonstrate the banding process for crabbers.

Dick’s Marina, Beach Nut Sports
314 Boston Post Road
Westbrook, CT
Tim Swain has sold out of lobster banders but still has bands available.

Rivers End Tackle
440 Boston Post Road
Old Saybrook, CT
Pat Abate is ordering a few banders and bands.

Ted’s Bait & Tackle
35 Clark Street
Old Saybrook, CT
Ted Lemelin reports he has sold out of lobster banders but still has bands and is reordering.

Several crabbers have tried the process and it does take some time to master the tool, but the bander will last years and the bands can be reused.  A couple of crabbers who like lobsters had a supply of bands who now said they will be putting them to “good use” again.
One word of caution however, use the gloves these hard shell crabs are strong and crabbers have sent in reports pointing out the difference.  The banders also have a small hole in the handle and people have commented about it when I demonstrated banding at several locations.  I attach a piece of twine to a small float, or a cork and this has saved a bander many times at a dock area etc. that fell overboard.
Once you get the process down it will save time re-handling them and your catch.
Many of the bait and tackle stores listed above have offered to also demonstrate the process.
Large Hardshell Crabs Move East to The Connecticut River
Central CT crabbers during the period of August 16, 17, 18, 19, picked up on a second wave of adult crabs moving east reinforcing a previous wave of just sublegal crabs  three weeks before.  Large adult crabs hit the Branford River first and one of the noticeable features of this group is again the yellow faced crabs, a super hard shell with a splash of brilliant yellow around the mouth (see report #10 July 20, 2011).  These crabs were super hard shells and had numerous injuries and older looking shells. 
On Saturday, August 18th three yellow face crabs were observed at 1pm in Clinton, the first one at lower harbor Town Dock and two more shortly later were caught at the Indian River Crab Dock at 2pm.  They had a brilliant patch of yellow and you could tell these crabs were packed, rock hard shells and their shells showed some algal growth, nicks and scrapes not the clean, not the new shells of bright white and blue shells earlier in the season.  The Clinton Harbor crabber had about 35 large crabs after 3 hours of crabbing and hadn’t noticed the yellow features.  The Indian River Crabber had about two dozen large crabs and you could really see the difference in shell condition and color.  At 2:38pm the Indian River dock water temp 720. 
Crabbing has surged again in the central areas and night time netters have reported catches from 70 to 100 crabs, doubling the average catch rate of 10 crabs to 20/hour and more from the DEEP Baldwin Bridge Boat launch pier.  So I wanted to see what crabbing was like during the day and at night.  I visited the Essex Town Dock at 11:10am Sunday on August 19th.  Six crabbers were on the dock it was an incoming tide 11:19am the bottom water temp was 780 degrees Fahrenheit sunny and a light breeze.  One crabber had returned 6 females and had seen no sponge crabs.  They started crabbing at 7:30 in the morning and had about 45 crabs at 11:30.  The Crabbing had increased and between 11:19 to 11:29am caught 11 crabs (a few two at a time) with the incoming tides at slack low the crabbing had stopped to almost nothing.  But what really caught my attention was two young crabbers from Ivoryton, Kai and Christian Konstantino; they were right in the middle of the crabbing – darting back and forth between one trap and one handline – two 5 inch crabs and one 7.25 inch and one 7.5 inch crab were quickly placed in a small bucket.  The two seven inch crabs were giving the smaller crabs a fight so I offered to band the crabs with my lobster bander and lobster bands.  They quickly agreed, showing them how to band the knuckle and replaced all four crabs in the bucket – no more fighting and after saying thanks were back to the lines and trap, no time for small talk, they were having a great time!  About 10 to 15 crabs an hour seemed about right.  No yellow face crabs were observed; next it was the evening test.
I usually crab in Essex or Clinton:  Clinton early in the season and then the Essex (CT River) later, at least since 2002.  In our area of the Connecticut River the eel population is extremely high so a full chicken leg can be stripped to the bone just in a few minutes.  Crabbers may see an eel from time to time during the day but at night they swarm the baits, providing that characteristic jerk at the line.  Willard my son started using some of his old lobster Vexar™ bait bags (gave up on the 10 lobster pots – lobstering was terrible) left over from lobstering off Madison and Guilford years ago.  He placed a pebble in each bag to hold the bottom – currents can be hard in the river so by 2007 he had a method to prevent the eels from taking the bait on a hand line, he used his lobster bait bags.
Essex Town Dock August 19-20, 2012
I must say the Vexar™ at night has certain advantages but not during the day in shallow “bright” areas, the bait bag seems to scare the crabs in bright light, however at night when the largest crabs leave the bottom it is a completely different story and they are very, very effective.  Most of the crabs at night grab the Vexar™ mesh not the bait, so they do not tear off with a piece of the bait when they grab the bottom, instead now the crabs tend to “sail” into the dock with both claws clinging the Vexar™.  In fact they grip it so hard you don’t need a net, you can lift them out of the water and shake them off, but we use a net still; we hit the Essex Dock about 11:15pm (flashlights a necessity). 
My son Willard, his friend Josh and I put the Vexar™ bait bags on the hand lines; each bag had a chicken leg and piece of cut mackerel or bunker (menhaden).  The problem was, as soon as we put out two hand lines – they hooked up with big crabs so I pulled them in and reset – same result two more large crabs at four lines out until by 11:30pm all four had crabs so I didn’t get all 6 lines out until midnight and fished six lines to 1am.  About 75 minutes of full crabbing I hauled- Josh netted- Willard banded- yielded 67 crabs – frequent doubles and Josh only missed four (because of the Vexar™) sizes of crabs were broken into 3 categories:
   21   5 to 5.5 spike to spike
             27     5.5 to 6.5 spike to spike
             19     6.5 to 7.5 spike to spike
For a total of 67 crabs
The largest crab was 7 5/8 although I have met two more crabbers (Ivoryton and East Haven) that claim to have caught over a 9 inch crab.  This year I showed the largest of these crabs to Ted Lemelin of Teds Bait and Tackle, Old Saybrook and he feels he has not seen this size blue crab at this time in the CT River fishery since 1982.  
He predicted an excellent Connecticut River fall fishery.

CT River Trap Fishery Increases as Crab Population Continues to Improve –
An account of the 2010 CT River Season – A Trot Line Experience

This past month (August 2012) the number of small boat trappers at the Baldwin Bridge (DEEP Boat Launch and Public Fish Pier) seemed to increase and when launched, headed up river.  Most of the crab traps were the open end box traps but some were the older collapsible four sided wing wall traps.  The CT River Fishery consists of traps set as singles, with a small diameter line and small buoy for each. One had used those white Clorox™ jugs for floats.  A couple of conversation attempts ended quickly with “crab traps” and a reluctance to disclose locations etc.  I can understand that, I lobstered commercially for 15 years with my brother Ray of Madison CT.  When asked about how the lobstering was, we usually gave a one word response, “okay”.
One of the crabbers recognized me from last year and he knew I send out this report, so I didn’t even ask about his catches.  These were daytime trappers, many crab at night also which according to some conversations last year morning tides were even better.  Trappers head for hard or firm bottoms, moderate flows, and small coves and the Brockway Bay, west of beacon #22 CT River and Nott Island Bay north of Nott Island Essex were the 2010 locations of choice.
I had a lengthy conversation in 2010 with a local trap crabber (nighttime) who set traps below the bridges on the Black Hall and Lieutenant Rivers on the Old Lyme side.  He had re-rigged the familiar ring stand shad light (see our Connecticut Shad Fishery publication # 5 on our adult education and outreach directory http://www.soundschool.com/directory.html) for nighttime blue crabbing.  He had been crab trapping in the river since 2003 and had about 25 traps.  Once he found a certain depth or band of crabs the trapping was very fast.  He would first set a few traps on a test and if he hit the crabs deploy the rest around the productive area.  Because these traps need to be constantly checked about 20 to 30 traps is all one person could check before the bait would all be consumed.  Sometimes he went up river and other times into the usual lower marshes and rivers; that depended upon recent rainfalls.  If it had been dry, he would head up to Essex if it had rained, he headed towards the river mouth.  Early in the summer the Old Lyme Rivers were good, but by July 2010, crabs had moved far upriver.  Some reports mentioned crabs in 2010 had even reached Deep River and Chester areas.
After a few minutes he pushed off the launch dock and headed up river.  On the way out he suggested I check the population just north of Nott Island and gesturing, gave him a ‘thumbs up’.  That was in 2010.
Later that week July 2010 crabbing surged at the Essex Town Dock and I remembered the suggestion directed to me at the Baldwin Bridge, to see it myself the incredible crab density.  I was curious every day; the CT River crabbing seemed to get better – where did all these crabs come from?  To investigate the population purchasing 20 crab traps for a one day test seemed a bit too expensive so I thought of a small trotline. 
I had gone on a series of day trips in the early 1980s in Maryland to help with some Peeler Tanks recirculation systems see publication titled “Gravity Fed Self Regulating Bio-Suspended Solids Pillow Filter for Crab and Lobster Tanks” #21 on our Adult Education/Publications Directory and had seen trotlines set and hauled.  I felt I could put something together and at much smaller cost than purchasing a number of traps.  I started to plan out a crab trotline similar to the hook long lines used in offshore fisheries.  My son Will was going to help me but at the time he was first mate on an historic schooner (Mary E) operating out of Essex, so I turned to an old Daniel Hand High School friend, Brian Sullivan of East Lyme who I had promised to take out blue fishing weeks before.  Would he help me with a blue crab experiment before we went blue fishing?  Brian responded yes, of course.
A trotline is simply a very long hand line with a series of line drops (snoods) from the mainline with a series of baits.  It was the fishing gear of choice a century ago for blue crabbing in Connecticut.  A line of continuous baited snoods is set on the bottom and then under run with a roller to lift the baits to the vessel while underway.  A “dipper” nets the crabs hanging on the baits before they can break surface.  A 40 bait trotline is a lot easier to fish than setting and pulling crab traps and a lot cheaper too.
Trotlines for blue crabbing is an old practice for catching hard shells in CT. Soft shell production however, that was sent to Fulton Fish Market, was mostly a nighttime dipping method *(see report #7). I had gone on some trotline trips down south years ago, so I tried to duplicate the roller and pipe extension used then.  I purchased a roller from Jeff Wilcox of Wilcox Marine Supply (not trade or endorsement implied) along with 600 ft. of braided line about 3/16” diameter and made a horseshoe from threaded pipes and bolted it to the side of Willard’s 14’ Brockway skiff (middle seat).  This device allows the line to be brought up to the surface for hand netting and can’t be unattended which is the whole point it must be attended to work.  The trotline I used down south was a soft 3 strand line with snoods woven into the strands like a splice and a slip loop for the chicken necks.  I can remember what an effort it was baiting the line.  In our waters I felt the chicken neck would not last that long so I took some of Will’s Vexar™ lobster bait bag material (which I use in warm weather with bait hand lines) and made bait bags.  A hog ring pliers and two sizes of clamps (the ones used to make wire lobster and eel pots also purchased at Wilcox Marine Supply) and made 40 draw string Vexar™ bait bags and clipped them to the main line about 12 feet apart.  The draw string bait bag allowed me to put in a chicken wing or piece of cut bunker (menhaden).  Making the bags took awhile but they can last a long time, etc.  In baiting I wanted to also test bait preference so some bags got a chicken wing and piece of bunker, some just bunker and some just chicken.  It was not only a test but an experiment as well.
I baited the trotline coiling it into a large plastic circular laundry tub; I put about 80 feet of blank overrun line on each end that is for the overruns to the anchor lines, which we connected two small mushroom anchors. (To keep the line on the bottom I placed a small stone in every five or so bait bags).  I put the entire tub in the refrigerator the night before.  When Brian arrived, I grabbed the tub two anchors and two anchor lines and buoys, everything fit into the laundry tub.
We launched at the Essex Town Boat ramp, dropped off the trailer, came back and headed for Nott Island in mid August 2010.
We caught just before high tide and dropped an anchor off the northern end of Nott Island (10 feet).  The bottom was firm sand, the type of bottom mentioned a few weeks before as good, and prepared to set the line; the line is set between two anchors, fastening at the beginning of the baits a “grab float” this is hauled up and placed over the roller.  Setting out was quick we had a slight breeze and tide making the setting quick.  We waited about 10 minutes and pulled a grab float lifted it over the roller and put the engine to forward slow.  The first bait bag broke the surface with three large jimmies holding on, but before Brain could react the bait bag hit the roller and the three crabs became airborne, the crabs were coming up too fast, I slowed down but the next two crabs also hit the roller but on the third bait bag Brian was ready and netted a large Jimmie.  Then I remembered my trip down south and the chicken wire nets, how they could slice into the water and how easy crabs (large ones) fell out.  On the fourth netted crab Brian was frantically shaking the net which now resembled more like a blue crab mop than a net with large crabs hanging on and in every direction.  I carry two nets and he passed me the full one and he continued to net, but the second net also quickly filled, same problem trying to slow the line and the crabs were still coming up too fast, so we just suddenly stopped (unplanned) and we looked down.  The surface had crabs everywhere, and the outboard had stopped.
I know that some of the southern crabbers are laughing now but at a certain point I lost maneuverability and the trot line was under the boat which had satisfied the outboard motors desire to eat it, which it did in great gulps. While I unwrapped the bait bag, angry crabs and line from the propeller, Brian scooped up all the crabs he could see on the surface and incredibly they refused to let go of the bait bags!  The bait bag material Vexar™ allowed them to grip the mesh tightly so even out of the water they wouldn’t let go.  So after awhile, Brian would just bring the bait bag into the boat and shook it sometimes with 3 crabs on a bag.  We looked at each other and said, why use the outboard at all?
This was not a prime time video moment and our discussion a critique of each other’s performance was somewhat loud (apparently) and had alarmed hand liners who came over in their boat to see if we were okay.  I explained what we were trying to do but the crabs were just coming up too fast, etc.  The absence of the chicken wire net made a quick retrieval with power (outboard) now impossible.  Some of the bait bags had more than one crab so I hauled the line by hand so Brian could net better; we checked the line 2 times for 84 crabs.  This was better due to the multiple crabs per bag.  We spent the next hour or so banding them and set off for blue fishing.  As for the bait, the mixture of bunker and chicken wings worked the best.  It took awhile for what we saw to sink in, but both of us were awed by the density of crabs we had two five gallon buckets of crabs but we could have fished for hours in 10 feet of water if we had the correct chicken wire nets.  We did try a shallow four feet set but got only 2 crabs; they were most definitely in the deeper areas.  In 2010 Nott island Bay and towards Essex had thousands of crabs most likely hundreds of thousands of crabs.  We never set the trot line again but after that experience I had a new understanding for the amount of blue crabs our coast now contained, and what shore crabbers see is just but a fraction of what was in the Connecticut River.  The crabber I talked to was correct: you did need to see it to believe it; we did and it was incredible.
Watching more boats launch with crab traps last weekend means the CT River fishery in 2012 is still improving.  The evenings of August 17 and 18 had the shore crabbers at night having trips into the 80 and 90 crab counts.  Small crabs continue to increase from Old Saybrook to Essex, helping the catch rates to rise.  At this rate we may approach or surpass 2010, other than an overwintering population in North Cove these crabs in the CT River arrived here from other areas.  It seems they continue to arrive, more and more every day, excepting any weather events the October fishery in the CT River may surpass that seen in 2010.
Thank you for all the reports – every observation is valuable as we learn more about our blue crab population.  Email blue crab reports to tim.visel@new-haven.k12.ct.us
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.
The Sound School is a Regional High School Agriculture Science and Technology Center enrolling students from 23 participating Connecticut communities.
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 at susan.weber@new-haven.k12.ct.us

Friday, August 31, 2012

Labor Day crab derby or just another average year?

Here in the Chesapeake Bay we've had predictions of a huge crab harvest in late summer and fall. These predictions stemmed from the unprecedented number of small crabs caught last winter in the Winter Dredge Survey, the annual survey of Bay blue crab populations conducted by Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (see figure above).

Will lots of juveniles in winter turn into lots of adults to be harvested for Labor Day festivities?

An intern at the Crab Lab here at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (officially the Fish and Invertebrate Ecology Lab) asked just that question this summer. Eric Parks (in picture below), a rising junior at Savannah State University, traveled to seven different areas of Chesapeake Bay to find out how many juvenile crabs were there. These areas were the Middle River, Magothy River, Rhode River, and Patuxent River on the western shore and Eastern Bay, Little Choptank River, and Upper Tangier Sound on the eastern shore.

Crabs were collected by towing a small net at 12 stations in each location, and crabs were counted and measured. Most of the crabs Eric caught were medium to large juveniles - the same age group of crabs that were caught in high abundance as small juveniles in the Winter Dredge Survey.

In most places, there were more crabs than there had been before harvest rules were changed in 2008 to protect more reproductive females. This is good news because it continues to suggest that the harvest rules are helping restore crab populations. However, in most places the number of crabs was not much different than in 2010 or 2011.

If you are out crabbing this Labor Day you should have some success. Just don't be too disappointed if the number you catch isn't much different from the last two years. Things should still be much better than they were in the late 90's and 00's.

Comment on this post with stories of your Labor Day crabbing experiences. I'll be curious to hear whether catches are great or if it's just another average year.

If you are looking for some crabby fun this Labor Day weekend, head to the First Annual Annapolis Crab Derby at the Annapolis Maritime Museum on Saturday (http://www.amaritime.org/) or to Crisfield for the National Annual Hard Crab Derby (http://www.crisfieldchamber.com/crab_derby.htm) which goes on all weekend.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Search for Megalops SPECIAL REPORT

From Tim Visel of The Search for Megalops:

The Search for Megalops
CT Blue Crab Special Report – Waves of crabs detected perhaps moving both east and west
NOTICE TO MEGALOPS EMAIL LIST = Attention Crabbers – Wednesday August 22, 2012
Information obtained on August 14-18 appears to contain reports that a series of large waves of adult blue crabs are moving along Connecticut’s coast.
These crabs have a very different appearance and don’t resemble the bright white/blue shells of spring and summer.  These crabs might be several years old perhaps the 2006 and 2009 Megalops set survivors.
Crabbing has soared in Branford and Guilford and now Milford.  This is a very good sign for western Connecticut crabbers.  The densest population this year based upon crab catch reports so far has been the New Haven estuary – Quinnipiac, Mill and West Rivers.  We do not know the source of these “new” crabs.
What to look for:
1.       These populations contain yellow face crabs– a piece of yellow around the mouth area.  Yellow face crabs have been observed in Clinton Harbor on August 18th. Yellow face crabs have not been observed in the CT River population as yet.
2.       A significant portion of the population has a second growth claw – a perfect claw that is about half the size of the regular claw – this is a crab that is several years old, it takes several years to re-grow a lost claw, perhaps 2 to 5 years.  Reports of any crabs with a second smaller claw would be helpful.
3.       The shells of these crabs show numerous injuries, sometimes shell damage that has healed, some may even be missing a point entirely.  I have seen two of these crabs in Clinton Harbor last Monday.  The shells show nicks, scratches etc.  It is obvious that they have been in these shells quite awhile.
4.       The underneath areas might have a brown growth, looks like an algal coating of some kind.  The claws may have dark brown patches or black streaks toward the tips.
5.       No female sponge crabs appear to be a part of these populations. 
We may be able to track the movements of these crabs by the date and time they appeared in crabbing spots. (General location is fine).  I would appreciate any reports of these crabs or sightings.
Thanks, Tim Visel
Please email reports to: tim.visel@new-haven.k12.ct.us
Notice: WARNING – These crabs are very large averaging 7 to 7.5” point to point.  They have very strong  claws and I have seen one at Clinton Harbor nearly cut a 5 inch crab in half.  They are what has been described as “rock hard” – hard shells; I banded one at the Indian River, Clinton over the weekend and it took two lobster bands in each knuckle to reduce fighting.  Please exercise caution etc.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

2012 Connecticut blue crab report #8

Reports 7 and 8 both posted today - scroll down so you don't miss #7.

From Tim Visel of The Search for Megalops:

The Connecticut Blue Crab Population and Habitat Study 2010-2015
The Sound School – The ISSP and Capstone Project Proposal
Building a Network of Citizen Monitors 
The Search for Megalops
Report 8 – August 16, 2012
You Do Not Need To Be A Scientist To Report!

  • Megalops Hatch underway -females shed sponge eggs and head up estuaries to join males – “Time of the Doubles” soft shell catches increase.

  • Connecticut’s First Crab Fisheries – Did Native Americans leave a history book for species and climate shifts?  Developing a Connecticut habitat history may include The Blue Crab.

  • Western areas must rebuild populations – Megalops set key to the Western CT 2013 Crab Year.   2012 Megalops set could be huge.

  • Public asked to look for Chinese Mitten Crab – a potential invasive species for Connecticut.   DEEP and Connecticut Sea Grant ask for your help.

Megalops Hatch Underway; Females Shed Sponges and Head Upriver – “Doubles” Appear in Central Connecticut

Crabbers were pleased to see very large jimmies with sooks or doublers after August 10th.  Soft shell crab catches greatly increased in central Connecticut.  One Old Saybrook crabber termed it “time of the doubles.” Female crabs are leaving the mouths of rivers and creeks and moving up to join with the males.  Expect some of those 4.5 inches crabs now to shed into legal sizes.  The changes in Central Connecticut were dramatic and widespread. 

The number of “doubles” at Essex Town Dock jumped over the weekend with about half of the legal crabs now protecting a pre-shed female.  Reports from Old Lyme, Clinton, Madison, and Guilford all mention the change.  The lower estuaries are now filled with 2 inch and 4-inch crabs – making certain the fall fishery will be a good one.  “It’s not like 2010, but better than 2011” commented a veteran crabber at Essex.  In 2011, crabbers languished with catch rates fewer than 3 crabs per hour while 20 crabs per hour this year was not uncommon.  After 5 hours of crabbing, he had 65 large blue crabs – a mixture of sevens, some eights; he felt he had broken the state record with a 9.25-inch crab (he had pictures) from a recent trip.

Hand liners except at the highest tides are catching mostly sublegal crabs, sometimes two or three at a time.  Hookups occur often but in deeper holes or river bends on the outgoing tides.  The line feels heavy and crabs frequently can be coached to the shore or dock floats but as soon as they are lifted off the bottom, they let go of the bait.  This happened to me in the Indian River, Clinton and could be related to a water temperature difference.  The hole at which I had the bait in was 71 degrees, a perfect temperature, but at the dock it was 76 degrees at the surface and brackish.  After about a dozen hookups with serious resistance pulling them into shallow water and lifting only to have the crab let go was somewhat frustrating.  One theory was as soon as they felt the warmer fresher water on top they let go.   Another crabber said those are big males with a female and to protect the female, they won’t leave the bottom during the day.   Not certain which one was correct, but it was frustrating none the less.  After an hour of crabbing I left with 2 legal (barely) crabs and returned 22 shorts.  The change in population composition the past week was quick and many conversations mention a tremendous change in smaller crabs at river mouths and an almost simultaneous increase in the doublers upstream. 

Shoreline crabbers at high or moving tides have done well the past seven days with very large crabs but the still and low tides prove the most challenging.  The best crabbing continues to be in Central Connecticut at high tides – of the 17 crabbers I spoke with during this period, all of them had caught crabs – (Central Connecticut Coast).

Western Areas Must Rebuild Populations – Megalops set key to 2013 Crab Year
2012 Megalops set could be huge

2012 Megalops set from female crabs here is now thought to be significant- perhaps with intensity not seen since 2009, Western Areas must rebuild populations that have been lost.   People will remember the summer of 2009 as very hot, sometimes so hot to reflect upon water quality and habitat sustainability- (reference report #7 “Blue Crabs Pick Land over Niantic”).   We had a hot summer (2009) algal blooms occurred and intense bunker (menhaden) fish kill happened from low oxygen in the Branford River, but the Megalops set must have been intense because the number of 2 inch crabs that next April was tremendous, something not seen here for nearly a century.   This summer we may have another great Megalops set- we had a record number of sightings for female “sponge” egg carrying crabs in mid June, especially in Bridgeport/Fairfield and the Clinton Harbor areas.   The prevailing winds have largely been from the southwest, perhaps adding to a potential Chesapeake Bay drift set, courtesy of the Gulf Stream.

With the warm temperatures the west sections may see a huge set of blue crabs- which should be about an inch across now- and could possibly reach the 3 to 4 inch size by October- setting up for another huge 2013 crab year.   It would take a huge set for the west to replace all the year classes apparently missing- gone for some reason (see report #7).  It seems, the west has to start all over again.  It is still too early to say what happened, but some of the crabbers reported the signs of a major blue crab die-off last August and I minimized it, believing it to be just fresh water poisoning from thunderstorms.   Now I believe I was wrong.  I reviewed the reports from last year and the crabbers who were very concerned, and in several reports repeatedly said they saw huge numbers of dead crabs, might have been reporting on a much larger and serious event- a major blue crab die-off- several weeks before Irene. 

From the Megalops report #12 of 2011 Western CT Blue Crab Observations  from crabbers

July 27th- 15 keepers, 3 soft shells; observed about 75 crabs total, 80% 1.5 to 2.5 inches; 10% 3 inches and 10% legal size;  The bottom dropped out of catches turning sharply negative then followed by reports of dead crabs on July 26, 27, and 28th.   Even the run distribution changed after positive numbers: western 50/50 about half of the catch was now legal and even in central sections for the first time it had dropped to 75% legal and 25% sub legal, western and central reports count/keepers surpassed the teens, had climbed into the 20’s and some even higher.   Eastern Reports are so few I can’t comment about catches in general, then the heat and heavy rains hit with one/two punch and catches/reports dropped and turned negative.   If reports continue to mention dead crabs especially that 1.5 to 2 inch crab that could impact the remaining blue crab year, I’m not certain.

Some reports mentioned a 50% drop in catches compared to the last trip and some after catching a few crabs simply gave up.   Just a few days before these areas were good to excellent.   Several reports mentioned the dramatic difference in water temperatures and clarity.    The water near shore felt “hot” or the area was full of brown water.   Three veteran crabbers report of seeing whole dead crabs the following two days.   After heavy rains two other in central areas expressed concern for what had been relatively quiet tidal areas, were now for a period a “rushing torrent of brown water- hot brown water no less.”

“Water was really warm for the first time in 10 years of crabbing here or better, I saw a good number of dead crabs.”

Something happened to these crabs and it is in the millions- what we catch with a string and chicken leg is just a small portion of the total population.  I don’t think anyone would argue that the methods we use in CT can be termed as highly efficient, and in dense concentrations of crab it is effective, nevertheless.   The population of Blue Crabs in western CT long Island Sound was significant in 2011 but now are gone- they have been lost.  Why? I can’t guess but this only signifies how important user groups (crabbers) observations can be- and I missed it.   About 10 reports mentioned dead crabs after rains, some crabbers, one in particular, said he had never seen such numbers of dead crabs in many years of crabbing in western CT and was very concerned about the fishing for next year- he was correct.   It is a poor year to date in the west.

To the crabbers that were concerned about seeing so many dead crabs last July and August, your fears and concerns were apparently justified.   It’s been a century since Blue Crabs were prevalent here and we are just beginning to learn what that means- habitat wise to have them.  That is why I often mention that every observation, every catch report, every survey is important.   The above observations illustrate the significance of these reports. 

If the Megalops set survives in the west this summer that would be a great sign for western CT crabbers, perhaps not for this year, but for next.

Connecticut’s First Crab Fisheries – A History Record from Our First Fishers?  Could blue crab be an indicator species for climate change.   A Science, History, and Archeology – Research Project for High School Students.
One of the things I have experienced this vacation and dozens of conversations with blue crabbers is a large influx of new crabbers – some have lived in Connecticut for many years and this is their first summer crabbing. 

A few conversations have pointed to Connecticut’s fishery history – and knowledge about blue crabs, including everything from “I didn’t know blue crabs lived in Connecticut” (a frequent statement) to a surprise of the extent of the current blue crab population (It is huge).  Some were even shocked to see the numbers of blue crabs in a given area such as the Clinton, Madison, and Guilford shores. 

The Clinton Harbor area within the Indian, Hammonasset and Hammock Rivers, the present blue crab population (all year classes) is estimated in the tens of thousands.  The smallest crabs are rarely seen, so the true extent without shallow surveys is difficult to estimate, but a dense blue crab Megalops set can be millions. 

Clinton has several productive crab fishing locations and its one of my frequent stops this vacation.  Questions eventually include Long Island Sound, its relative health, and the many years of news reports about the lobster population declines which is currently at very low levels.  How could blue crabs be so abundant and lobsters so scarce?

When you examine Connecticut’s fisheries history, you do see patterns of fisheries abundance related to climate, temperature, and energy.  It is thought that for blue crabs and lobsters 1998 is a key transition year.  (Fishery production statistics for climate change see paper “Blue Crab Great Years – and Then None?” September 8, 2010)..  

Clinton Harbor is a good study area as it contains both a “core” history in its salt marshes and evidence of Connecticut’s first fishers – a local Native American people called the Hammonassets.  Coastal Native Americans were very aware of New England’s coastal marine resources “seafood” and the first clam bakes are attributed to them.   The shad bakes (roasts) still celebrated in the Essex/ Old Saybrook area is another direct descendant of earlier fishing practices.  They appreciated nature’s bounty and we know that fish and shellfish were important food sources.  Therefore, Native Americans may have left a historical record for us about long term climate, temperature, and energy system impacts to fish and shellfish populations.   The resource use record therefore may mirror habitats, a “habitat history.”  We call those records today shell middens - heaps of discarded shellfish shells, oyster, clams, and bay scallops, but also blue crab remnants, conch shells, and fish bones.   Blue crabs might be a good indicator species of climate change or pronounced habitat shifts.

In times of great heat (which we are presently experiencing) shell heaps (middens) might contain greater numbers of blue crab claw tips, soft shell clams, and oysters – all do better in dry and high heat periods.  Layers of lobster beaks, hard shell clams, and bay scallops could signal colder, more energy filled periods.  These species do seem to change prevalence (positions) in more recent habitat histories.  At the turn of the century midway into The Great Heat (1880 – 1920), the soft shell clams sets following the 1898 Portland Gale are legendary in Clinton Harbor.  Bay scallops had long since disappeared from the much colder and stormier 1870s.  It is hard to believe Greenwich, CT being a huge producer of bay scallops, but it was in 1872 – when it was brutally cold here.  As the temperatures warmed after 1880, bay scallops and lobster populations retreated north and collapsed in the late 1890s.   Blue crab, oysters, and soft shell clam abundance then soared.

Bay scallops would return to Connecticut and in record abundance during the New England Oscillation (also termed the North Atlantic Oscillation) when colder winters and powerful storms raked Connecticut’s coastline (1950 to 1965).  The 1950s saw record cold, a huge increase in powerful storms but bay scallop production soared.  Bay scallops like cold and energy – it helps maintain their habitats.   If these climate and energy relationships have a habitat/ prevalence or connection they might be apparent in those shells heaps.  When hot, blue crabs, soft shell clams, and oysters become abundant.  In cold periods, lobster, hard clams and bay scallops reign.  Coastal Native Americans so dependent upon seafood would observe changes and perhaps left us a history of their seafood use as long-term environmental fisheries history – hopefully the alkaline shells have buffered our acidic soils so that such a habitat history record still exists.  Even the process of dipping (netting) blue crabs at night so productive here today appears to be an old one, and related to spear fishing.

In a 1958 National Geographic Story of Man Series – Indians of the Americas, Matthew W. Stirling refers to torchlight fishing on pg.  50 – mentioning the importance of seafood to the Algonquin culture.

“In summer, the usual spear fishing method was for two men to out in a canoe at night.  The man in the stern paddled while the other speared fish attracted by the light of a bark torch in the bow.”

If this sounds familiar to the early turn of the century blue crab dipping, it should.  Fishing by light at night is an old practice but an abundant supply made the practice worthwhile (it was productive).  It is the change in abundance and assemblage relationships that midden remains may provide. The study of middens may answer some of our questions about climate change and habitat conditions for both cold and warm water species.

Taking this concept forward will involve high school students reviewing the available scientific records (fisheries) and archeological studies of the past century.   This would include a full review of Colonial fishing records until present.

Most of our Connecticut fisheries history is currently stored at the DEEP Marine Fisheries loft in Old Lyme, CT.  It represents the largest continuous fisheries records from the first legislative acts of the 1870s to the State of Connecticut Fish Commission to the formation of the State of Connecticut Department of Fisheries and Game to the present DEEP Marine Fisheries Division.  In a recent meeting it was asked that this proposal be sent to other scientists, historians, and archaeological practitioners in Connecticut in support of perhaps a much larger environmental habitat history project for the state.  That process is currently underway.   One of the species proposed as a key habitat history indicator is blue crabs.
It is a multiyear project that has enormous environmental study benefits from monitoring climate habitat shifts, global sea rise, and contains fisheries management implications. 

I would be pleased to respond to any questions at Tim.Visel@new-haven.k12.ct.us

Public asked to look for Chinese Mitten Crab – a potential invasive species for Connecticut.   CT DEEP and Connecticut Sea Grant ask for your help.

Press Release:  On August 3rd, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Connecticut Sea Grant issued a press release asking for the public’s help in identifying a potential invasive crab species.  The Chinese Mitten Crab (Eriocheir sinensis) looks to be larger than the green crab (Carcinus maenas) also an invasive species and similar looking to the Purple Marsh crab (Sesarma reticulatum) found consuming salt marsh vegetation on New England marshes. 

Distinctive in appearance are its claws (although I have never seen a live specimen) which have hairs on them that look like “mittens”.  This is a species that grows to enormous densities and travel in “pods”.  With the body carapace it can be 12 inches across including the legs. 

The press release is reproduced here for any crabbers that have seen some of these crabs- please, a “do not release” request is in place.  Directions for reporting if you catch one is included in the Press Release. Look to this website for detailed information including photographs:  http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?Q=509026&A=4174

A few key paragraphs are below:

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) and Connecticut Sea Grant today confirmed that a juvenile Chinese mitten crab (Eriocheir sinensis) has been found in Connecticut waters. In late June, the crab was collected from the Mianus Pond fishway on the Mianus River (Greenwich) by Joe Cassone, Conservation Assistant for the Town of Greenwich Conservation Commission. The crab was first delivered to CT DEEP’s Marine Headquarters in Old Lyme, and following examination by CT DEEP and CT Sea Grant biologists, sent to the Marine Invasion Research Lab of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center for a confirmation of the initial identification.

“This discovery is of some concern,” said CT DEEP Deputy Commissioner Susan Frechette. “In high densities, these crabs can damage fishing gear, clog pumps and intake pipes, cause riverbank erosion through their burrowing activities and out compete native species for food and habitat. However, these crabs are relatively new to the Atlantic coast, and at this time it is unclear as to what their effects will actually be.”

“It’s important that people keep an eye out for these crabs and report them,” says Nancy Balcom, Associate Director of Connecticut Sea Grant at the University of Connecticut. “Early detection of new species in our marine or fresh waters can help lead to more options for control and spread prevention. In 2010, there was a reported sighting of a crab in a pond near the Mill River in Fairfield that may have been a mitten crab. Unfortunately, we were unable to catch that crab to confirm its identification.”

Chinese mitten crabs’ claws are of equal size; all but the very smallest (<1 12="12" 860-407-9107="860-407-9107" a="a" across="across" ancy="ancy" and="and" any="any" appear="appear" approximately="approximately" balcom="balcom" be="be" between="between" brownish="brownish" can="can" carapace="carapace" chinese="chinese" claws="claws" contact="contact" crab="crab" ct="ct" dark="dark" deep="deep" do="do" each="each" exact="exact" eyes.="eyes." finding="finding" fisheries="fisheries" found="found" four="four" freeze="freeze" fresh="fresh" fuzzy="fuzzy" grant="grant" greenish="greenish" growth="growth" have="have" hence="hence" ice="ice" in="in" inch="inch" inches.="inches." inches="inches" including="including" individuals="individuals" inland="inland" is="is" it="it" keep="keep" legs="legs" location="location" marine="marine" mitten="mitten" name="name" not="not" notch="notch" note="note" on="on" or="or" please="please" release="release" sea="sea" shell="shell" should="should" side="side" size="size" smooth="smooth" spines="spines" suspect="suspect" that="that" the="the" they="they" tips="tips" to="to" total="total" up="up" was="was" whitish="whitish" width="width" with="with"> water should be investigated, as there are no freshwater crabs in New England.

Thank you for all the reports – every observation is valuable as we learn more about our blue crab population.  Email blue crab reports to tim.visel@new-haven.k12.ct.us

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.

The Sound School is a Regional High School Agriculture Science and Technology Center enrolling students from 23 participating Connecticut communities.

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 at susan.weber@new-haven.k12.ct.us