Thursday, March 28, 2013

2013 Connecticut Blue Crab Report #1

It's time for another year of The Search for Megalops project on Connecticut blue crabs. Here's the latest on potential effects of the cold winter/spring of 2013:


The Sound School – the ISSP and Capstone Project Proposal

Building a Network of Citizen Monitors

The Search for Megalops

The Connecticut Blue Crab Population Habitat Study 2010-2015

You Do Not Need To Be A Scientist To Report!

 

The Search for Megalops – Special Report #1 -2013 – Blue Crab Year

March 26, 2013

 

·         Hope fades for blue crabs as cold air lingers over Canada

·         Hibernation period extends as stored food capacity runs low

·         Winter kill now possible as water temperatures only approach 40° F – a 1950s winter.

Cold Winter Could Impact Fishery

Several crabbers have asked recently about the cold winter and some 62 inches of snow (Hartford to Worcester 100 inches) along the shore and it seems no end in sight. They were correct in expressing concerns- I share them.

At 90 days stored food and 44°F to 47°F water temp hibernation period even the most generous estimates put hibernating blue crabs at starving level or close to it.  Worse yet, in some of the more saline areas subject the dormant blue crabs to predation from whelk (conch) and the starfish. The crabs often just run out of food and perish – the “winter kill” described in fishing reports from the 1950s.

“Plant your peas on St. Patrick’s Day” an old saying from Connecticut’s previous warm climate period 1880 to 1920. This period had very early warm (almost hot) springs and it was possible to plant them. This year much of Connecticut would need to dig past snow layers and ice for planting, but last March it was a very different story- March temperatures here were in the 70s.  Last April, Connecticut River fishers reported the first adult blue crabs feeding in North Cove, Old Saybrook on April 17th.

What to expect?

After an incredible 2010 blue crab year, which contained an estimated 200 million adults, we had the 1950s winter which saw some 76 inches of fallen snow. Following Connecticut River Blue Crab 2010 year (catch rates surpasses 100 crabs per hour) 2011 was back to the 1950s level of 5 to 8 crabs an hour.  Following last year’s very warm spring* CT River Blue Crab Fishery recovered and catches at Essex were again in the 60 to 80 crabs per hour, range last September.  The Connecticut River fishery was helped by a huge migration of large adult “yellow face” crabs that moved east from the New Haven Rivers, harbors and West Haven shores in August 2012. These crabs are thought to be the 2010 Megalops set that moved east from the Housatonic River.  From past records and reports from the 1950s (and much thanks to the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management for photocopying their 1950-1960s fishery histories (2,900 pages) in a 1950-1974 coastal marine bulletin series for the Sound School), a 1950s type winter cold, storm and snow filled proceeds a 1950s blue crab year which is modest at best. (Massachusetts Historical Marine Bulletin Series (see The Westport River Report)

Recent years-  CT River - August –Sept Fishery, Essex, CT*

2007 - CT River 40 to 80 crabs per hour

2008 - No records – very little information

2009 - Fair, 20 to 30 crabs per hour / night only

2010 – Excellent, 90 to 100+ crabs per hour

2011 – Poor to fair, 8 to 12 crabs per hour

2012 – Excellent 60 to 90 crabs per hour, more at night

* Trip catch reports personal observations, average 4 lines/traps/person.

We are having a 1950s winter again; cold Polar air outbreaks have resulted in the North Atlantic Oscillation or “horseshoe” shape storm pattern over the United States.

The Oscillation winters are famous for their deep South Polar outbreaks and increases in gales from Nor’easters coming up the right quadrant to New England on the easterly side of the horse shoe.  But, it could be far worse-- on March 10th, 1949, at the start of the last North Atlantic Oscillation, New Haven’s residents woke to 11°F.  Bottom line – it doesn’t look good.  Connecticut had a good native 2012 Megalops set, but an early Chesapeake Bay Megalops hatch (2013) from the Gulf Stream could rescue the late summer fishery. 

In general, the 2013 blue crab season could look like 2011, better in the west (warms quicker) but much poorer in the east (warms slower).  It’s too soon to tell for certain but April snow will be very damaging to Blue Crabs in CT. An extended cold period now could wipe them out.  One of the most significant overwintering sites last year was  in New Haven Harbor west of the Coast Guard facility and at the mouth of West River, West Haven Shores to Sandy Point.  If adult crabs made it they should appear first in these areas.

Still hoping for a good season and the first reports of active blue crabs will be extremely important.

Email blue crab reports to: tim.visel@new-haven.k12.ct.us

Every observation is valuable as we learn more about our blue crab population. 

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.

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

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

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