Thursday, July 5, 2012

Connecticut Blue Crab Reports #4 for 2012

I've missed the first several blue crab reports from Connecticut this year, but here is the latest one. Crabs this big sound like good eating!

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 4 – June 29, 2012
You Do Not Need To Be A Scientist To Report!

  • Crabbing Surges in Central Connecticut – Large crabs prevalent in many areas
  • Female sponge crabs caught between Branford and Old Saybrook
  • Eastern Coves all report large crabs
  • Megalops set from last fall feared lost
  • Large crabs generate new interest in crabbing

In Central Connecticut crabbers enjoyed increased catches breaking 20 counts approaching 30 crabs per trip.  Effort remains somewhat high, now 5 to 10 crabs/hour.  Incoming tides in this region shows the best crabbing with lowest catches on mid tide ebb.  A good sign is that for every legal crab caught two or more small crabs (3 to 4 inches) are returned.  What is quite noticeable is the large size of these male crabs which ranges from 6 to 7 inches with measurements tending toward 7 inches.  Many of the largest central catches are made in or near dredged marina channels or basins.  These areas are thought to have large over wintering populations that are protected from more saline predators, which include conch and starfish.  The largest crabs appear to be caught adjacent to these areas and at night by traps.

Female egg bearing crabs appear in large numbers –

Many crabbers have reported that an unusual number of female ova containing (sponge) crabs have been observed between the Connecticut and Branford Rivers.  One Clinton crabber reported returning over 50 egg carrying females in a four hour trip.  Large catches of female crabs were also caught in Clinton Harbor, Farm River in East Haven, Gulf Pond Milford and Pachaug River in Westbrook.  The presence of large numbers of sponge crabs that over wintered in Connecticut may lead to a maturation process for a Connecticut megalops set which should be observable in October.  The large numbers of sponge crabs show that crabs were able to survive Irene and the heavy rains last fall.  The winter was very mild so “winter kill” was diminished but predation may have increased in high saline areas containing shallow conch and deeper star fish populations (see report #3, June 19, 2012).

Huge crabs reported in Central, CT –

“They are monsters” were the first words out of a veteran Old Saybrook crabber and after inspecting his catch, I would need to agree – all between 6 and 7 inches, some more than 7 inches.  A Baldwin Bridge crabber made almost the same comment after many of the crabs were beyond 7 inches and one just short of 8 inches.  They were huge!  Incoming tides still seem to be the favorite time and hard shell jimmies make up most of the catches.  As the salt water wedges strengthened (and the rains finally subsided) look for these large jimmies to continue to move into the upper estuaries, rivers and creeks.  Crabs hit the Baldwin DEP Dock Connecticut River on June 25th – about a week earlier than last year.  Crabbing is still modest, however you need to put the time in, one 40 crab plus catch was 8 hours long or about 5 crabs/hour which is average for many areas.  Never before has so many large crabs been caught this early and one crabber said I can’t wait for those August crabs if they measure 7 inches now – good point.

Megalops set feared lost -

Key to continue crabbing of course is the population of 3 to 4 inch crabs but they are here also and also seem to be increasing.  More and more reports mention the 3 to 4 inch crabs from the central areas.  No reports of along the beach movement as yet – and no megalops?  What seems to be missing and its still too early to declare the megalops set a failure but the absence of small 1 inch to 2 inch crabs now, it is not a good sign as compared to 2010.  The only western cove/region to report them is Gulf Pond in Milford.  Seine surveys will be conducted over the summer in New Haven Harbor to see if any of this age group can be found.  An early megalops set from last summer should be about 2 inches now a late fall set should now be the size of a dime.  It is these sizes that produce the 3 to 4 inches crabs by August.  It’s still possible that the 2011 megalops survived the silt, fresh water and disturbance from Irene but without reports of these size crabs along the coast the prospects of that are dimming.

The next chance would be an early Chesapeake Bay Megalops drift from currents and southerly winds and small crabs should be observed by August/September.  The Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab population is showing increased numbers – now estimated at over a half billion crabs.  The warmer spring temperatures did have the potential of an earlier spawn/megalops set and potential drift into Long Island Sound.

The other chance is for the first time large numbers of Connecticut female “sponge” crabs have been observed between Clinton and Westbrook, primarily in Westbrook.  The ova/egg masses look intact and ripe so a Connecticut set from these crabs is possible and with the prevailing south westerly winds should keep the megalops small crabs blown to our shores as with the oyster spat.  These would appear as small crabs in late fall.  Shelly areas will be examined for megalops later this summer.  

Large crabs generate new interest -

As expected the large size of the crabs in the lower CT River have started to bother shore fishermen who now reel in huge blue crabs refusing to release chunk bait (mostly bunker).  A Baldwin Bridge fisherman caught 8 crabs on chunk bunker bait but not one blue fish but was pleased nonetheless.

Areas in Central CT that have the best crabbing continue to be next to dredged basins/channels and those near shellfish populations.

I continue to find people surprised that Connecticut has such large blue crabs and some bait and tackle stores report crab nets and traps have been selling fast as the “giant” blue crab season starts.

Any reports of small blue crabs are very helpful, locations can be general “east” “central” or “west” what is particularly interesting is the “run” the percentage of legal crabs to sublegal crabs which indicates the future fishery.

All Blue crabs and Megalops observations are valuable; please email them to me at

Program reports are available upon request, 1-4 catch/observation reports 1-15 are also available from last year.

For more information about New Haven Environmental Monitoring Initiative or for past reports please contact Susan Weber, Sound School Adult Education and Outreach Program Coordinator – email to:
If you would like to receive these Blue Crab reports ask to be placed on the email directory.

If you do not wish to receive these reports, please let us know.

Looking forward to hearing about any Blue crab research.

Tim Visel

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.

Watch for the Megalops Portal on The Sound School website

The Sound School is a Regional Agriculture Science and Technology Center that enrolls high school students from 23 cooperating towns.

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