Tuesday, September 17, 2013

2013 Connecticut Blue Crab Special Report #5 - Crabbing improves and plans for crabs skiffs available

From Tim Visel at The Search for Megalops:
The Sound School – The ISSP and Capstone Project Proposal
     Building a Network of Citizen Monitors
The Connecticut Blue Crab Population
Habitat Study 2010-2015
  You Do Not Need To Be A Scientist To Report!
The Search for Megalops
The Search for Megalops Special Program Report #5

September 16, 2013

The Sound School
Items of Interest to Blue Crabbers 
  • Connecticut River has Second Wave of Crabs – Crabbing Improves
  • Brockway Style Construction Plans Available for 12, 14, 16 Foot Skiffs – Press Release  

Connecticut River Experiences Second Wave of Crabs – Over 1,000 crabs/day now harvested from Connecticut River and adjacent areas  

Catches have improved in the Connecticut River as catches likely total more than 1,000 crabs/per day (although many crabbers feel it is much more than that).  The last two weeks a new wave of rusty – super hard shells has moved up the Connecticut River into Deep River.  Crabs have also been sighted in Hamburg Cove but no direct catch reports as yet.  The further up river seem to be the largest crabs and Essex area crab catches are now predominately “rusty.”  These crabs are super hard shells that seem to be very happy in their tight living quarters and this late in the season I am surprised they did not shed?  Only a few yellow face crabs have been observed this year.  Some conversations from crabbers have mentioned to me that a yellow face crab is two years, no shed, but rusty crabs may be more than that.  In fact yellow face crabs may turn “rusty.”  I am not certain that this is true but was mentioned to me many times this summer, but I did see that in lobsters when I commercially lobstered off Madison with my brother between 1967-1981.  In late winter, we would catch a “grounds keeper” a lobster 2 to 3 lbs in size with a dark red shell, barnacles, even small mussels.  They were hard as a rock then and shells hard scrapes, missing chunks, they looked like wrecks.  The amount of meat that came out of these lobsters however was huge, and they seemed okay also in these very tight rock hard shells.
Crabbing at higher tides has definitely been better from shore in central Connecticut, lower tides in the dredged marina channels. 
The male crabs caught in Essex on September 9th and September 11th were mostly rusty and packed.  If the waters remain warm perhaps there is enough time for a shed, and if so watch for a pulse of crabbing in early November as newly shed crabs feed heavy storing food for over the winter/hibernation.  I have had to adjust that hibernation period and now believe blue crabs now feed into December – January. 
Great news from the west!  The last two weeks have seen now good reports from Darien, Fairfield and especially Milford.  In Milford the crabbing is now good and several reports from Milford mention a good mixture of year classes, 1 to 2 – 3 to 4, and 5 inches and up.  No reports yet from the Housatonic or Saugatuck Rivers – Norwalk River has yielded just a few crabs but reports of crabs now mixed in around oyster beds among the Norwalk Islands is a good sign.
No signs of a Megalops set, still waiting for some inshore beach seine reports. 
During the warm spells this fall look for the densest concentrations of crabs in deeper areas especially dredged marina channels.  Reports vary according to the tide, temperature, and current flows.  Observations of Connecticut River crabbers indicate for shore hand liners moving tides at high tide have been yielding the best catches. 
At night at low tides seek out channels as a habitat “compression” occurs as crabs seek out slightly cooler waters that contain higher oxygen levels. 
* Workshop to Review Sound School Construction Method for a Brockway Style Blue Crab Skiff
Many crabbers the past few years have mentioned the need of a small flat bottom skiff recalling the ones formerly made at Brockway Boat Works in Old Saybrook.  Although Brockway Boat Works closed in 1997 fishers can still have a Brockway style skiff by building their own.  Although Brockway Boat Works has closed the design features that made them famous has remained.  Thanks to Mr. Earle Brockway.
In 1982, Earle Brockway assisted an international effort to replace thousands of small craft lost in typhoons by approving the distribution of his skiff construction plans.  In 1983 a 16 foot plywood skiff construction guide was made available to Peace Corps Volunteers by the ICMRD Dept of the University of Rhode Island.  In January 2010, the United States Agency for International (USAID) Development reissued the 1982 construction guide and is available for a small reprint fee.  Since that time interest in flat bottom fuel efficient skiffs has tremendously increased as they can be built at home with modest tooling.
The 14’ and 16’ guides with corrections/suggestions are available from The Sound School Adult Education and Outreach Program.  For information please contact Susan Weber, Outreach Coordinator at susan.weber@new-haven.k12.ct.us.

Since 1998 overall interest in the Brockway Style of skiff construction has grown steadily.  The design has widespread international representation and over the decades plans have been sent to every continent.  Several commercial firms offer similar designs today and acknowledged them to be based upon the Connecticut Brockway’s.  The Brockway style skiff is becoming one of the most recognized vessel types in the last century and flat bottom skiffs are renown for their fuel efficiency.  That feature alone has caused a renewed interest in them especially the Brockway skiff series.
So many crabbers during the summers of 2009 and 2010 mentioned a need for a small family style row boat for crabbing I decided to put this design to paper.  We have a CNC router at Sound School and a workshop this winter could be held if sufficient requests come in.  A workshop could include participants leaving with all the plywood pieces cut out ready to assembly on your own.  That was presented in a proposal developed as part of a NFTE class project by Sound School student, Zachary Gough also in 2010.  By 2011 the need existed for a small skiff to go blue crabbing in late summer and the Brockway old low profile crab skiff would be perfect. 
One thing that has changed since the 1970s was a huge State DEEP commitment to increase boating and fishing access.  The coastline is now dotted with DEEP boat ramps and fishing piers. Launching a flat bottom skiff near blue crabbing locations are made easy by such infrastructure that DEEP created to support fishers in our state.
Crabbing from a flat bottom skiff has been in existence here for a century.  In a middle 1970s in a book titled successful crabbing (Ernest and J. Cottrell et al IMP-Camden, Maine 1976) describes this practice on page 39.
“The rowboat is traditional for crabbing, but use any boat that allows you to stand well up in the bow and see the area in front of the boat while poling or padding along.  Generally, a small so that you can maneuver it easily and low so that you can avoid being affected too much if it happens to be windy.
It is best to go against the tide, because any muddy water that might be stirred up will go to the rear of the boat, and the crabbing area will stay clear.  Also, if a crab is spotted, it is easier to stop the boat without alarming it.  Avoid letting your shadow fall on the crab. 
With the net ready at hand, paddle or pole along slowly.  Look carefully at any little depressions on the bottom and around any obstacles.”
This is a press release being sent out in central Connecticut but some blue crabbers might want to get a first look at the 12 foot skiff plans (presently being compiled by Edward Flanagan, Senior Aquaculture Technology teacher) at an October 3rd workshop in Branford.
Brockway Style Construction Plans Available for 12, 14, 16 Foot Skiffs  

Press Release – The Sound School

The Return of the Blue Crab Skiff
Workshop to Provide Plans for Century Old Skiff Design
New Haven, Connecticut – September 10, 2013
Connecticut has recently experienced a tremendous surge in blue crab reproductive capacity in local waters. A large increase in blue crabs has created much interest in fishing for these tasty crustaceans. Decades ago Connecticut marinas had plywood skiffs that could be rented on a daily basis to go blue crabbing. They had low profiles to allow for easy dipping and hand-lining for blue crabs; low sides, flat bottoms and easy to row features made for a great day of blue crabbing in coves and bays.
Sound School Senior Technology teacher, Edward Flanagan will start a construction project that will focus upon the 12 foot low profile blue crab skiff. Sound School students will be working on two 12 foot plywood skiffs this fall.  So many crabbers contacted The Sound School last year after information was posted concerning plans for the Blue Crab Skiff (Blue Crab – Info – Forum™ posting (August 1, 2012) and other websites Connecticut Fish Talk™ and the International Blue Crab blog that we soon will have these construction diagrams available.
The last Connecticut builder of these plywood work skiffs, Brockway Boat Works in Old Saybrook closed many years ago; however the increase in blue crabs has created renewed interest in this traditional blue crab skiff.  On October 3rd, 2013 at the adult education program of ERACE held at the Branford High School, plans and design information for the 12 foot Brockway skiff will be made available. There is a fee to attend the workshop and all workshop participants will obtain construction plans/technical bulletins for the Brockway 12 foot blue crab skiff and 14 and 16 foot Brockway fishing skiffs. For more information please call 203 488.5693 or register online at: www.erace-adulted.org

Blue Crabbing was popular a century ago -

At the turn of the century it was very warm in Connecticut, and during summers it was hot.  Shoreline towns grew quickly in these summer “heats” as those that could leave the cities heat waves to spend a few weeks at the Connecticut shore did so next to cool waters and shore breezes.  During the day inland temperatures rose quickly and the rising air masses quickly caused those cooling southwest breezes.  What was at times unbearable heat waves in cities during 1880 to 1920 the so called Great Heat seemed to help the blue crab.  As summers became increasingly hot in the 1890s so did the blue crabbing increase.  The blue crabbing seemed to yearly improve from some of the 1900s shore reports (see Groton Long Point Land Company history) with each summer.  Noank, Connecticut was the place to go blue crabbing with low sided wood skiffs, flat bottom sculling (transom oar) allowed “dippers” to sneak up resting crabs at night (torch light dipping) or to the under running of trotlines with a bow netter during the day or just handling single baits often from a wood rectangular spool frame – still called “crablines.”  As the heat grew more intense blue crabs (like people) sought out slightly deeper cooler waters away from the beach fronts which at times water temperatures could be in the 80s*.  Then a low profile wood float bottom “blue crabbing” skiff became the boat of choice.
Skiffs were used at high tide in channels or at low tide looking for soft shells blue crabs long considered a delicacy.  Although Noank was once famous for its prospering lobstering center (1880s), by 1898 the lobster fishery there had largely “failed” lobstering was terrible then, the prolonged heat had killed the smallest stage four lobsters.  As the lobster sets decreased, the Blue Crabs Megalops larval stage survived by the millions.  Blue crabbing surged into the 1900s.  During this time Connecticut’s bays, coves, and river mouths contained numerous flat bottom skiffs.  These rowboats were put to use in harvesting blue crabs and poling (sculling) for crabs especially soft shell crabs mixed in eelgrass meadows became a popular activity for summer visitors.
Rowboats had become a feature of summer shore life and Groton Long Point Shore community contained in its areas a salt pond called the lagoon.  George Peck recounts blue crabbing around 1910 from a skiff in the 1970s (Groton Long Point).  “When I was a little fellow, dad took me crabbing in the upper lagoon, then a saw grass marsh.  For safety, he tied me to the stern seat.  Some how I managed to fall overboard Dad reached in, pulled me out by the hair, and went on crabbing.  He made so little of it that I didn’t know I should have been scared (Groton Long Point Fifty Years And Then Some 1971).  These flat bottom skiff were ideal for the shallow areas that then held blue crabs.
And every Connecticut shore community had a local builder of skiffs.  Some with particular styles in the Guilford area a famous builder of skiffs was Louis Jacobs of Guilford (1910) (Guilford Keeping Society 1976).  But every fishing community had its own local builder of skiffs for clamming, oystering, shad fishing or as tenders to fish traps and fish pounds.  Skiffs were a part of every fishing community.  In Men, Fish And Boats (Alfred Stanford 1934) describes New England skiffs as be constant feature for inshore fishing villages as Menemsha, Cutty Hunk the inlet to Judith Pond, Block Island among others.  The advantages of the low profile skiff would be reinforced by its selection for the cover of Popular Netcraft catalog.  In 1946 here a low profile skiff is highlighted for its ease in netting a fly cast fishing rod catch in fresh water.  Low sides and greater stability made these skiffs very serviceable for blue crabs in the 1920s.  In later years lobsters returned with cooler ocean temperatures but blue crabs yet fewer than before remained a favorite yet unpredictable summer “visitors.”
In later years in Old Saybrook, Connecticut boat builder Brockway Boat Works became a regional supplier of flat bottom skiffs and were quickly put to use blue crabbing.  The flat bottom skiffs were well known for drawing little water, easy to row and provided a stable platform from which to blue crab.
The increase in the blue crabbing has seen an increase an interest in these blue crab skiffs however Brockway Boat Works closed in 1997 with the passing of Earle Brockway.  Since that time interest in the Brockway skiff has increased and much of the earlier features, a strong durable fishing and shore work boat but in addition its low operating coast.  The hull shape flat bottomed makes it one of the most efficient fuel conscious designs today and this aspect alone has reinvigorated interest in the Brockway design in New England.
Several boat building firms now offer a Brockway style skiff.
On October 3rd The ERACE Adult Education program at Branford High School will review Sound School construction plans for this 12 foot Blue Crab Skiff.  Many crabbers expressed interest in building a skiff and the workshop will review the 14 and 16 foot skiff designs as well.
For more information please call 203-488-5693 or register online at
Email your 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.

* In 1901 to 1905 Tarpon were frequently caught in Narragansett Bay.

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