Monday, September 23, 2013

2013 Connecticut Blue Crab Report #9 - First Young of the Year Arrive and other news

From Tim Visel at The Search for Megalops:

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 –Report #9 -2013 – Blue Crab Year
September 18, 2013 

  • Blue Crabbing Improves in Central Connecticut
  • Essex, Connecticut Blue Crab Capital?
  • Boats and Shore Crabbing
  • Crabs Detected Moving West
  • “Rusty Crabs” Now Dominate Many Areas
Blue Crabbing Improves in Central Connecticut

The first 10 days of September saw crab catches inch up in central and eastern CT with the highest reports now coming from the Mystic and Connecticut Rivers. All the coves, creeks and bays from New Haven east have crabs, a few yellow face but mostly hard shells; the small 3 to 4 inch size seem to be increasing between Branford River and Clinton, while new western Connecticut reports mention large numbers of 1 to 2 inch size, a good sign not so much for this year but an excellent one for next year; still no report of widespread Megalops sets. In 2010 and early 2011, the towns that reported the densest Megalops sets were Darien, Westport, Fairfield and Bridgeport.

We would need to see that Megalops set around now, if it were to have enough time to reach an inch point to point before hibernation.

The fall crab fishery looks to be excellent in the Connecticut River. And I need now to apologize to these crabbers in Essex who first told me about overwintering crabs in the marina basins there in 2008. I now believe those overwintering locations to be important to the Connecticut River crab fishery especially for North Cove, Old Saybrook.  North Cove has been dredged since 1954 and has constantly shown early multiple year classes even spring, for 5 years. South Cove to the immediate south has a large causeway and is relatively shallow, and it does not seem to have any crabs early spring. The same situation has been reported in many lower rivers: East in Guilford, Hammonasset in Madison, Branford, West in Guilford and Westbrook’s Patchogue and Menunketesuck Rivers. The fall fishery barring any weather events should be outstanding

Tim Visel

p.s. Late note: Large Megalops crab hatch reported off Westbrook to Guilford, September 12-16, more in next report. 

Essex, CT Blue Crab Capital? 

A film crew for New England Boating that has been filming special interest segments featuring several New England’s harbor destinations and had heard that Essex not only had some of the largest marine businesses and historic maritime settings to visit but had become a popular destination for a burgeoning blue crab population. The Connecticut River blue crab fishery has in the past few years become almost as recognized as the lower river striped bass fishery each spring. The location has not been lost on regional boating community especially those from New York who anchor in the lower river and catch, cook and consume fresh blue crabs from the boat. The film crew was in Essex (hosted by Essex Island Marina) to visit several popular Essex destinations but wanted to experience blue crabs also.  Two local crabbers William Doane and Dylan Defrino of Essex helped out.  After a slow attempt to find the crabs north of Nott Island, William and Dylan returned to channel edges by the marinas and found many hungry crabs waiting for food. Essex has dredged channels freeing the bottom of vast collections of leaves and mud and in the process creating it seems excellent habitat for blue crabs. These channel areas are thick with crabs and this is where small boats provide a key advantage for crabbers and the 12 foot Brockway style or similar blue crab skiff is a must late summer (my opinion). (See Special Report #5, 2013) for information about Blue Crab Skiff boats and shore crabbing).  Look for the Essex New England Boating special in late September on NESN.Com

Boat and Shore Crabbing

Although many Megalops reporters crab from canoes and kayaks, I am old school and prefer a flat bottomed skiff. The densest population crabs in the Connecticut River are now in Essex Cove channels, and a flat bottomed crab skiff (Brockway style) would be my boat of choice now; these were low profile skiffs designed for blue crabbing and snapper blue fishing (see report August 1, 2012 Blue Crabbing Skiff for Fishers, Clinton Harbor). They have a two position rowing setup that also can be rowed from the rear seat, while the bow seat becomes a “dipper” position looking for soft shells at low tide, while at high tide, the skiff is an effective hand-lining platform, two adults 2 and 3 children. At night the design draws only a few inches and can be sculled form the rear (seat (early version was just a notch out in the transom with a leather strap nailed across it) while “flash lighting” crabs from the bow along marsh edges. Many crabbers expressed interest in the design last year (report August, 2012) but the storms last year made finishing the 12 foot skiff construction bulletin impossible. It is now being completed and plans should be available soon. The Brockway style skiffs are constructed from high grade exterior plywood and modest power tools, and with painting and reusable care will last for decades. The 1958 skiff I used with Mr. Charles Beebe [1] in the East River, Guilford in the early 1970s is the one in my back yard and still holds its shape although no longer seaworthy. Having used the blue crab skiff many times I can attest to the versatility from blue crabbing, gill netting menhaden and to the snapper turtle trapping; it was dependable and seaworthy when carrying weight. I should be finished in a few weeks with the plans, and perhaps a winter project to be ready for next crab season? For more information about design plans, contact Susan Weber, Adult Education at susan.weber@new-haven.k12.ct.us

Crabs Detected Moving West

I almost sent out a mid-August report about this and I thank those western crabbers who sent in reports about 1 to 2 inch crabs. They showed up in large numbers in Milford around August 20th and a series of reports indicated westward movement again with strong tides (see Report 8, August 23, 2013), but there just wasn’t enough of them to identify it as organized movement. The good news for western crabbers is that mixed in with the 1 and 2 and 3 inch crabs are a few legal sized crabs 5” and up. Some crabs are now being caught in Milford, Westport, Stratford, Fairfield and Norwalk. It’s very slow crabbing 3 to 5 crabs per hour – far different to the 10 to 30 crabs/hour in central and eastern sections. It is however, a good sign but the Saugatuck is still quiet. It is thought that in the warm weather sulfides might still be present there from the tremendous amount of leaf litter it has received after Irene and Sandy. We have seen blue crab populations sharply decline in Connecticut before.

After some large catches in the 1920s, Connecticut blue crab commercial catch in 1930 topped 200,000 lbs or about 500,000 crabs[2] (pg 147), New England Historical Catch Statistics, US Fish & Wildlife Service Statistic Digest #59, Charles H. Lyles, GPO Washington 1967.  In 1931, crab production fell sharply in New England.  This decline was most remarkable in Massachusetts which saw production tumble from 4.3 million lbs (10 million crabs) in 1929 to only 200,000 lbs in 1931. New York’s blue crab catch dropped from 1.2 million lbs (1888) to only 105,000 lbs in 1931. (Middle Atlantic Fisheries Historical Catch Statistics, US Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, 1967 pg 215). Although the US Fish & Wildlife collected commercial fishery statistics people in Connecticut were recreationally blue crabbing as blue crabs was a popular seafood at New York’s Fulton Fish Market. On average 120 day season Connecticut’s 1930 catch would be about 4,000 crabs/day. These statistics did not include the recreational catch then, but as previously described was substantial.

Water Temperatures Maxed Out – Habitat Compression is Evident

Everything is late this year commented an Essex Town dock crabber on August 30th. I would agree about 30 to 40 days late thought to be the remnant of a very cold spring; we entered this crab season with water temperatures 3 to 4 degrees below average and lateness continued the entire summer, and still waiting for the Megalops. In July of 2010 (Report 13, August 15, 2011) crabs hit Essex town dock around 4, 5, 6 of July, this year it was a month later around August 10th. The “doubles” showed up late also and now increasingly present in every center and eastern location. On August 30th, the water temperature was 78 degrees at the Essex Town Dock.  One of the most noticeable events this summer has been large concentration of crabs however, in deeper saline pockets in marinas. This has been noticeable in the dredged channels of Middle and North Coves, Essex. Crabs appear to be compressed at low tides in these areas (makes concentration of crabs easier to catch) and at higher tides move into the shallows. As cool nights begin, look for crabs to be less “compressed”. This warm water at low slack tide has produced some of the poorest crabbing results. At the Baldwin Bridge on September 1, 2013 crabs were noticeable in the shallows but not moving; snapper blues were also present but to the frustration of several anglers, kept ignoring bait but nosed the surface looking for that 1 inch deep layer of slightly higher oxygen and it was hot, nothing was moving. I suspected low oxygen conditions.

Look for these conditions to improve slightly and new reports of a large number of 3 to 4 inch crabs now in Clinton could even improve crabbing this fall. If water temperatures remain warm, it may signal another molt – shedding before winter sets in.

“Rusty Crabs” Now Dominate in Many Areas

One of the changes this season has been the dramatic declines in yellow face crabs, about 1 out of 10 crabs I have observed being caught are yellow face (see Report 3, June 19, 2012) but now many crabs appear rusty with rock hard shells. These have appeared in greater numbers (even some 4 inch crabs are rusty) and do not have the bright blue clean shells of early spring.  These crabs have very hard shells, are packed with meat but have not shed, and some crabbers report that they haven’t for two to three years (see special report 5, September 16, 2013) making them perhaps the 2010 Megalops set, which was tremendous.

In 2009-1010 heavy Megalops and “star” crabs were recorded in the Bridgeport/Fairfield area, but this year the number of sponge crabs reports dropped off considerably.  It may be that heavy Megalops sets are not yearly but periodic, and that one huge set could sustain a fishery for several years.

With about a month before water temperatures begin to shock Megalops into hibernation it would be a good sign to see sponge crabs and a Megalops set. Look to minnow seines for evidence of the first small crabs (Report #9 August 30, 2012) along the beach front in or near tidal creeks.

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

All blue crab observations are 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.


[1] The low profile makes it ideal for netting crabs and setting small trot lines. It is not a vessel for the open Sound (low sides) and is a pond, bay and river boat.
 
[2] The US Fish & Wildlife Service statistical conversion for Connecticut blue crabs is 2.4 crabs to the pound. See Statistical Survey Productive Section 14, page 402 statistical Digest #44, 1957, US Dept of the Interior
 

No comments:

Post a Comment