Friday, July 26, 2013

REPOST: Crab Knuckle Banding - Keep your hard crabs alive

Late last fall I published this post from Tim Visel of "The Search for Megalops" describing a method for keeping live crabs alive. A dead crab is a wasted crab, not to mention an economic loss for crabbers and seafood dealers. Tty it out an let us know how it works for you.  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 Atlanticand 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 SoundSchool 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

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


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

2013 Connecticut Blue Crab Special Report #3

From Tim Visel of "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

Special Program Report #3

July 23, 2013

The 2013 Blue Crab Year


  • Blue Crabs Massing at Entrance to Connecticut River
  • Crabbing Soars in Eastern CT Coves
  • Western CT Crabbers Seek Answers About Habitat Concerns

Blue Crabs Massing at Entrance to Connecticut River

Reports continue to come in about a very large population of 3 to 4 inch crabs massing on the west side of the lower Connecticut River – Old Saybrook area.

These crabs have at times made dock fishing impossible (loss of bait). Reports from trappers also in some lower river regions and Old Lyme rivers (lower) now report hundreds of 3 to 4 inch crabs while crabbing. As the salt water wedge continues to build look for these crabs to advance up the river. The tidal wedge is building strength and excepting any new rainfalls should be in Essex in five days. Blue crabs did appear on July 4 at Essex only to be pushed south again after heavy rains. The first sublegal crab I observed was caught in Essex again on July 20th.

These immature crabs should move up the Connecticut River at night (at least that has been the pattern) in the next few days.  Reports of 3 to 4 inch crabs have also greatly increased from shore areas Guilford to Westbrook (Clinton Harbor especially).

No discernable “wave” movements along the coast however have been detected as of today, July 23rd.

Crabbing Soars in Eastern CT Coves

Crabbing continues to improve in eastern Connecticut as reports indicate good to excellent catches in nearly all the coves, including Bakers, Alewife, Jordan, and Masons Island.  Excellent high tide catches from handliners, low tide night time dippers with flashlights. Still, no reports for the Pawcatuck River or Thames River: these areas tend to follow the shallow warmer water Eastern CT coves.

Western Connecticut Crabbers Seek Answers About Habitat Concerns

Several Western Connecticut crabbers have asked about signs and symptoms of a habitat failure for blue crabs. I know of no such research underway at present but two indicators of a very much changed ecology and habitat would indicate Sapropel or oatmeal – large new accumulations of organic matter, usually brown leaves as a dominant source material. Bottom samples may be black underneath this brown surface layer but the leaf stems remain intact for one to two years (personal observations) and thick growths mats of sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca) can also be in close proximity.

What to look for:

1) New thick green mats of sea lettuce; sea lettuce has been known since the middle 1980s to emit toxic substances that could kill blue crab Megalops (Johnson and Welsh, 1985) sometimes in a matter of minutes. Thick mats of decaying sea lettuce mats have occurred worldwide and once dead, released so much hydrogen sulfide fumes it overwhelmed beach walkers in Europe.  

In France large amounts of Ulva lactura rotted and emitted large quantities of hydrogen sulfide gas with tragic results killing school children who had volunteered to help with cleanup efforts (2009).

China has just recently experienced a sea lettuce bloom the size of Connecticut!  Sea lettuce is now also linked to natural biocides. When eelgrass populations declined in the 1930s Brant (geese) switched to eating sea lettuce which led to a report by the US Fish & Wildlife that hunters complained bitterly that Brant that fed on sea lettuce tasted terrible.  (US Fish & Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior:  Waterfowl Tomorrow US GPO 1964 page 145-146) Brant eventually faced with starvation and on a poor food substitute Ulva, had to change their migratory routes.

In a 1980s experiment at the University of Connecticut and a paper published later in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology details the toxic impacts of Sea lettuce upon blue crab Megalops in low oxygen conditions. (Detrimental effects of Ulva lactuca exudates and low oxygen on estuarine crab larvae Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology Vol. 90 #1, 1985.)

Blue crab areas with sudden or much larger sea lettuce populations are now suspected in a regional western CT blue crab habitat failure.  Increases in sea lettuce in good (pre July 2011) crabbing areas have been reported.

2) Increased Sapropel and Hydrogen Sulfide gas discharges from leaf rot. Look for previous harder firm bottoms now soft and filled with rotting leaves, stems, bark and grasses. When disturbed, these deposits emit a slight sulfur odor (matchstick smell).  If these deposits have putrefied, than intense hydrogen sulfide (rotten eggs) smells are possible.  If areas are low in oxygen bottom organic matter continues to rot, releasing streams of gas bubbles to the surface. This is a very bad sign for crab habitat as it shows depleted respiration in low oxygen conditions. At low tides on hot days with little current, these bubbles will appear to rise or stream off the bottom.  In the summer these bubbles tend to be hydrogen sulfide, in winter and with greater oxygen in the water, methane.

Several Baldwin Bridge crabbers over the weekend experienced these conditions briefly, so it’s just not a Western CT concern, at slack water, low tide, crabbers noticed bubbles coming to the surface (crabbing was terrible) at this time, perplexed, I explained it was gas given off by rotting leaves below, and threw a box wing wall crab trap slowly pulled in to the dock contained about six black oak leaves in the trap indicating a leafy rotting bottom. When the tide changed and salt water with more oxygen hit the pier, crabbing quickly improved and bubbles disappeared.

In the west, look for these bubbles, at low slack water, their presence could signal a habitat “failure” for blue crabs.

A larger report will follow on Western CT habitat histories.

Thank you for your recent emails.

Tim Visel

Email your blue crab reports to:

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

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

Monday, July 22, 2013

2013 Connecticut Blue Crab Report #5

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 

Megalops Report #5 

July 15, 2013 

The 2013 Blue Crab Year
·         Crabbers Find Large Crabs In Central Connecticut
·         The 2012 Megalops Set Is Missing 
·         Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut Agencies Share Blue Crab Data
·         Increased Rainfall, Heat and Sapropel Habitats
·         Lobster Populations In Eastern Long Island Sound - A Recent Look At Shell Disease
Crabbers Find Large Crabs In Central Connecticut 

Crabbing improved in central Connecticut as difficult crabbing conditions also continued.  “They are here,” were some of the comments at the Connecticut River Baldwin Bridge Fishing Pier July 10.  Some 50 wing wall box traps were set and many large crabs observed.  Catch rates are also higher 10 to 15 crabs per hour but only at the higher tides.  Low tide crabbers found brown water and much lower catches.  In the Indian River in Clinton several crabbers found only small crabs on the ebb tide, but on the incoming tide the brown water was still on the surface flowing out.

In several places I noticed what happened last year after a heavy rain; crabs would hook up to the bait but as soon as an effort was made to lift them up off the bottom, they let go.  At lower tides and especially on the ebb crabs tend to become lethargic and burrow into the bottom waiting for a fresh tidal exchange of saline oxygen rich water.  This was also observed last year later (see report #8 August 16 2012). In the Oyster River I observed much the same; hookups were frequent but as the bait pulled a release.  Higher tides seemed much better for hand liners. 

Some positive signs include strong numbers of the 3 to 4 inch crabs which seem to be increasing in some of the deeper dredged areas and some of the first reports from eastern Connecticut have come in. Some of the areas that seem to be good year after year have crabs again, Jordan Cove, Middle Alewife Cove, north of Masons Island  (Mystic River) and Bakers Cove (by DEEP boat ramp).  One Eastern CT report of concern was of a blue crab die off in the middle basin of the Poquonock River, Groton.  It could be freshwater poisoning or sulfide toxicity -not certain. Warm water die-offs in Eastern CT this early in the season would be rare but not impossible. 

The North Atlantic Oscillation horseshoe shaped storm track shows no sign of weakening (Report #2 May 15, 2013). The amount of moisture being pushed up the eastern seaboard is now record-breaking for many southern communities and flooding is occurring in coastal watersheds. The amount of organic debris being washed downstream across Connecticut is enormous.

Old Lyme and the lower Connecticut River are still reporting the most frequent, largest catches. 

See you at the docks, 

 Tim Visel 

The 2012 Megalops Set Is Missing?

The question of the impact of a tremendous increase in energy and a long bitter winter upon the Blue Crab (1 inch to 2 inch size) I believe has been answered, it’s deadly. It is becoming clearer what happened when a series of this type of Fall/Winter are combined back to back over several continuous years – it would greatly reduce Blue Crab populations, as several long term population studies now show.  

However, a good number of 2011 Megalops (now 3 to 4 inches) survived the hurricane and long winter and a good population of older legal size (2012) crabs also survived. Blue Crabs here in some sections of central Connecticut this August and fall should be very good – but not “great”. Concerns are for next year as we just don’t see the 1 to 2 inch size in any great numbers (if anybody has seen them, drop me a line). Several Clinton harbor crabbers have observed that the smallest crabs appear to be “missing” this year. One report obtained Monday did mention seeing some- about 60, and that would be a very good sign.

Last July I watched thousands of 2 inch crabs entering the Connecticut River at night. This year I have seen three – two live and one dead. Other crabbers have mentioned this also. This was a much different July than last year (Report #6 July 19, 2012). The coves and bays really took a pounding last winter and besides Hurricane Sandy we had several powerful gales and upper New York state had snow in May.  

The Blue Crab years of 2007 and 2010 were great and shell fishers in both years reported huge numbers of 2 inch crabs swarming over clam and oyster recreational and commercial areas. In April and May these 2 inch crabs were everywhere it seems then and easily caught with silversides in minnow seines along the open beach front. Not this year.  

But this situation is not new to the Western Connecticut crabbers – for those areas it looks like all the year sizes are gone and almost no new reports from the western sections. For them it is now the third year of a poor July. Crabbing was good in western Connecticut until July 26, 27, 28 of 2011 (see August 2, 2011 Report #12). After two days of heavy rains, crabbers reported “rushing torrents of brown water- hot brown water no less”. The impact was most noticeable with the 1 inch to 2 inch crab size with many die-off’s reported and it did impact the remaining Blue Crab season. The western sections would never recover to the abundance levels of 2010. The few crabs spotted in 2012 (July 9, 2012 report) did not hold past the summer.  

We may still see 1 inch crabs in large numbers but it would be in September. If so, a Megalops set would need to happen in Connecticut soon. With all the fresh water now in moving streams, that may now be difficult. The next few weeks will have much to do with how we enter the 2014 Blue Crab year.  The weather it seems will have the largest impact upon our Megalops potential. Any reports of large numbers of 2 inch crabs would be a positive sign in any area. 

Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut Agencies

Share Blue Crab Data 

I want to thank you, Derek Perry (MASS Division Marine Fisheries), Penny Howell (CT DEEP Marine Fisheries) and Rhode Island DEM (Division of Fish & Wildlife Marine Fisheries) in the 2013 Management Plan for the Crustacean Fishery Sector for providing blue crab survey data regarding blue crab populations.  The key period is 1998-2000, the time which crabbers in Connecticut first noticed a steady increase in blue crab populations.  This change 1998-2000 is also apparent in the Rhode Island URI Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) Trawl Survey of Narragansett Bay.

The Rhode Island survey is the longest running dating back to 1898 during The Great Heat itself.  At that time Rhode Island fishery managers were concerned about the dramatic decrease in cold water species (mostly lobsters) and increases in warm water species (tropical fish).  Since 1959 the Rhode Island survey has focused upon a Narragansett Bay wide trawl net survey.  The Connecticut survey dates back to a trawl net survey beginning in 1976 but at one time Connecticut conducted a statewide seine survey but my records indicate that ceased in 1958.   

The Massachusetts survey is a mixture of both inshore seine surveys of its southern facing salt ponds and a general trawl net survey.  It also has been conducted for several decades. 

Many Southern New England fisheries have experienced dramatic increases or decreases in abundance during the past century nearly all of which have a suspected temperature and energy link. 

Two sides of a habitat suitability curve or index is present as it warms and energy decreases and as it cools and energy increases.  If a marine organism has a habitat suitability profile that is strongly “one sided” then wide swings in climate and energy cycles should show these habitat events.  These events represent abundance and the differences in habitat quality are what that makes that abundance possible. 

Many feel that the rapid rise in Connecticut lobster landings late 1980s indicated a habitat suitability that favored adults, not juveniles.  The very shallow near shore areas would tend to warm up the fastest and it these same areas that were important to small lobsters (kelp/cobblestone). We may be seeing the same thing for blue crabs only to see habitat failure if in fact energy levels remain high and temperatures continue to fall, the colder 2010-2011 winter seemed to limit blue crabs in the east and central sections in 2011.  By the time blue crabs hit the Connecticut River the first week of July 2011 “the wave” was weak and barely noticeable.  In 2012 the wave of crabs that hit the Connecticut River was huge and similar to those noticed decades before entering salt ponds in Rhode Island – Jeffries in his 1966 study of Rhode Island Salt Ponds even termed it as “waves”.  Some Rhode Island reports from 2010 describe this movement east along the Rhode Island south shore from little Narragansett Bay and the Pawcatuck River east – a few reports were from SCUBA divers who were surprised to see so many blue crabs traveling in a uniform way on the bottom during the day.  Blue crab movements as waves may not be a new Southern New England behavior just one that occurs when they are extremely abundant. 

I do appreciate the several emails about the Connecticut and Massachusetts data and combined with the Rhode Island survey all show dramatic blue crab prevalence (upswing) between 1998 and 2000, and a larger upswing 2009-2010.  The surveys also show periodic “spikes” but all three show similar spikes from 1998-2000 and 2009-2010.  Some condition or habitat index was favorable in all three states at the same time.  The Rhode Island data shows the largest change in abundance of blue crabs 1998-2000 since the trawl survey started in 1959.  The Massachusetts and Connecticut show frequent spikes and it looks like I missed some good blue crabbing in 1980-81.  The 2009-2010 upswings were large and record breaking for Rhode Island. Many feel that the 2010 Blue Crab season in Connecticut was the best one in a century.  

What I feel is important is while southern Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut surveys recorded increased blue crab presence is when the lobster population was in a free fall.  Something that was happening that made habitat conditions better for the blue crabs and deadly for the lobsters. The question that blue crabbers often ask – will it last? Referring to the increase of crabs shown by Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut data in recent surveys. The short answer is, I’m not certain. The historical review tells a different story- every warm period has been followed by a colder storm filled period and during the transition decade-wide swings in temperature and energy occur- hurricanes followed by blizzards are often recorded.  

According to my research, 2004 stated a similar transition period, extreme hot/cold and a gradual increase in storms. Colder and stormier periods are first picked up in the bay scallop fishery- they have such a short life span and also the blue crab. That is why long term surveys such as these previously mentioned above are so important in learning more about their natural patterns.  That habitat link may in fact be Sapropel – a jelly like organic compost, acidic and damaging to winter flounder and bay scallops.  As bay scallop sets were declining oyster sets were improving, as lobster fishers pulled up empty lobster pots a new generation of blue crabbers found their catches soar.  A habitat reversal of that not seen in a century was happening in Southern New England. A long term look at environmental history including climate, landings and storm data may unlock a puzzle that has long plagued fishery management efforts, “Is it habitat or is it overfishing?” 

Increased Rainfall, Heat and Sapropel Habitats 

Black mayonnaise (Sapropel) has been attributed to declining inshore fish, and shellfish habitat quality (Boston Globe article, 11/26/11) and accelerating nitrogen pollution Conservation Law Foundation report 10/30/2011.  Coastal residents in many southern New England states now reference it as bottom changes. Its cyclic buildup is part of a natural process now linked to shedding excess nitrogen – ammonia compounds during high heat. The changes in bottom habitats in the 1980s were first observed by fishers, and necrotic fin rot, in winter flounder.  Shell fishers then noticed declining bivalve sets and changes in bottom pH and smells would be minor to the enhanced sulfur reduction/nitrogen storage processes people couldn’t see. The increase in sulfur gas would be associated to the “marsh stinks” a century ago.  In recent times, the hydrogen sulfide gas of low oxygen reducing environments would create long periods of low oxygen and under the proper conditions create hydrogen sulfide “fish kill” toxic events, the “black water death” of the last century.  But, Sapropel buildup is not a new occurrence and many of the first layers of Sapropel were found beneath eelgrass meadows. There are two basic types of Sapropel, forming and ancient.  Sapropel can occur in cycles (such as today) much lower amounts from storms that tend to wash it from coves (see Megalops Report #3, June 12) or warm storm free periods in which it tends to accumulate. 

Ancient Sapropel is found in deep marine seas and the bottom of lakes.  It has over thousands of years become a organic rich high nitrogen material that when applied on farm fields especially cereal and vegetable crops can increase crop yields 30% to 75%. (Reference Lakes Bottom Deposits and Their Economic Value In Industrial Agriculture Sector Off Western Siberia 2011; Tatiana N. Serebriakova, Ph.D. or et al. University of Connecticut). Sapropel is now recognized worldwide for its ability to bank or store (sink) nitrogen compounds. This ability has not gone unnoticed and Sapropel has caught the attention of a growing worldwide organic natural food constituency who consider it to be a natural formed fertilizer supplement for artificial ones.  

Most Sapropel forms at the deepest most oxygen deficient areas of lakes and ocean basins.  The absence of oxygen is a key ingredient for Sapropel formation. But in the marine environment in high heat Sapropel becomes deadly and zones of oxygen depletion often have soft Sapropel bottom deposits.  A shallow water estuary can often have sea grass (eelgrass) environments important to blue crab and other crabs species over it.  It is a habitat type that can be influenced by rainfall.  Large amounts of organic matter such as sticks, bark, leaves and dead grasses washing into shallow warm estuaries quickly can rot and decrease water exchange. Sapropel tends to absorb heat; soft patches of it with eelgrass were significantly warmer than sandy clear areas in surveys of Niantic Bay in the 1980s.  In areas of “black mayonnaise” it was hot and seemed to drive colder-preferring species away from it.  Many blue crabbers experienced Sapropel and most likely did not realize it at the time.  It can get deep in slowing moving current flows in shallow areas. Several kayakers have had some close calls as well, believing bottoms to be firm only to find themselves stuck in “soupy black muck”. 

Sapropel has the following characteristics: it is acidic, black, jelly-like and often feels greasy to the touch.  When disturbed it has a slight sulfur (match stick) odor and will, because of its low pH, quickly stain your hands.  Because of its high sulfur content it is now suspected to be the source of the yellow coloring of the older yellow faced blue crabs (perhaps from overwintering?).  In high heat Sapropel can be damaging in many ways; it can shed ammonia during sulfur reduction processes, a brown (HAB) algal nutrient.  It produces both hydrogen sulfide gas (the marsh “stinks” of the last century) and sulfuric acid, and removes any oxygen for organic respiration in contact with water.  Because of its tendency to form a jelly-like substance, it tends to collect in slow moving currents away from direct energy pathways; it can be found in the quiet upper reaches of coves and bays.   

Fishers first noticed Black Mayonnaise in the early 1980s – especially bay scallopers. The increase of black mayonnaise was very alarming to the Hyannis Bay fishers on Cape Cod in the early 1980s as they had never seen it before become so thick so fast.  Fishers who fished in Lewis Bay were the ones to correctly identify its source as deep brown waves of organic debris (sticks, stems, dead grass) – called oatmeal which in high heat turned black.  In times of heat, a sudden rainstorm (or storm for that matter) could disturb these putrefied deposits releasing hydrogen sulfide and causing the large fish kills (black water deaths) from the past century.  It was the Cape Cod fishers who found in places several feet of organic oatmeal that would turn black in August heat (1983).  

This is the same oxygen deprived substance that collects in closed system aquaculture systems and makes changing filters (which also turn black with the same sulfur odors in them) in restricted air spaces so dangerous.  The toxicity of such Sapropel formation and toxic hydrogen gas would cause tragedy at the University of Maine with aquaculture technicians (July 2002).  Sapropel and the toxic sulfide formation can be very deadly not only to sea creatures but to us as well.[1] 

The increase of Sapropel coverage of estuaries is the largest indicator of habitat change in the past century.  The fishers on Cape Cod in the 1980s were right to be concerned about the formation of Sapropel, it would go on to devastate the bay scallop, quahog and winter flounder habitats within a decade.  The increase in Blue Crab habitat quality was just beginning but as Sapropel accumulated its impact upon blue crabs would be accumulated by heavy rains – it is those times that hydrogen sulfide is washed from it – the black water death of the last century. Heavy Sapropel layers can be damaging to blue crabs as well. The heavy rains this spring could influence habitat quality into negative areas for the blue crab and we may have seen that happen in July 2011 – western Connecticut. 

Lobster and Winter Flounder  

If organic composts (Sapropel) is a key link to habitat reversals we should look to other species.

Sapropel and a fungus Saprolegnia is now linked to the winter flounder fin rot disease of the 1980s.  And what locations showed the first signs of fin rot, they would be quiet coves and in low energy areas in which black mayonnaise first collected.  Organic material is rich in bacteria and fungus and some of the first concerns come from lobsters caught over sewage sludge at the 105 mile off shore New York dumpsite.  At the 1977 Rhode Island Fishermen Forums (once sponsored by Rhode Island Sea Grant), Jake Dykstra held up lobsters caught from the 105 mile dump site with shell disease.  I had started lobstering in Long Island Sound in 1967 and had never seen anything like that.  By 1982 the New Haven Harbor was showing winter flounder caught in the Morris Cove section had fin rot in 22% of the sampled winter flounder.  It is a low energy area and offshore surveyed areas in higher energy zones at the same time showed much lower prevalence[2].  In high heat both fungus and bacteria thrive and in low oxygen marine environments this compost (black mayonnaise) quickly becomes Sapropel. 

In the New England lobster fishery, shell disease first occurred historically in lobster pounds – enclosures in tidal creeks and salt ponds in which lobsters were “wet stored” like cattle pens to be sold at high prices in times of short market supply.  These “pens” held lobsters for several months and fed, as usually poorly flushed bacteria and sludge soon built up on the bottom of these storage areas (personal observations, 1977).  Bacteria in warm weather thrived and massive August lobster pound mortalities are documented in the fisheries literature.  What was happening in a small habitat way would soon impact all of Southern New England, as energy (storms) slowed, and organic matter rotted in high heat – what Peconic Bay and Great South Bay fishers described to me decades ago – bay bottoms just turned black and went soft.  With increasing heat into the 1980s, Sapropel deposits grew in poorly flushed coves, a habitat failure occurred first for winter flounder and later for lobsters.  A key ingredient it seems was warmth, the warmer waters to the south had higher incidence of lobster shell disease than cooler waters to the north (Cobb Castro 2006). 

Shell disease hit lobsters hard in Buzzards Bay in 1997, but stopped short of Maine waters (thought to be to cool).  In 1998 the incidence of shell disease soared in the southern New England region as lobster stocks crashed.  Shell disease is still with us – as the next section illustrates.     

For more information about Sapropel, see “Sapropel and Climate Change – Fisheries Habitats Degraded by Putrefied Organic Debris in High Heat, Low Energy Conditions” available from the Sound School Adult Education program. Contact Sue Weber ( 

Lobster Shell Disease: A Grim Reminder of a Habitat Failure 

The May 15, 2013 newsletter #2 contained a report by one of our Sound School students, Cole London, regarding his blue crab research in Barnegat Bay. In this issue, research regarding lobster shell disease conducted by Tyler Greco, a Sound School student, and co-author Tim Verastegui, a student at Windham High School, is presented. The research took place at Project Oceanology Ocean Diversity Institute (ODI) during Session 2 July 22- August 17, 2012. It’s one of the few recent reports of shell disease based upon field work that I have come across in several years, a quick snap shot look that also has a historical section, looking back over previous summer ODI sessions. We have had several Sound School students attend this excellent program at Project Oceanology. Thanks Tyler for mentioning it to me recently!  

A large thank you to Kirsten Tomlinson of Project Oceanology for sending this article to us and for approving the article and its publication in this newsletter.  

Tim Visel


Project Oceanology ODI – Session 2, July 22 – August 17, 2012 

Tyler Greco-The Sound School
Tim Verastegui – Windham High School
(Figures and charts deleted due to space limitations) 

The Ocean Diversity Institute was funded by the Connecticut State Department of Education Office of Educational Equity through the Interdistrict Cooperative Grants Program. 


This study is about the health and population of lobsters in Long Island Sound. Lobsters belong to the subphylum of Crustacea, which is a part of the Arthropod phylum. Crustaceans have several jointed appendates, an exoskeleton, and segmented bodies. Lobsters live in rocky environment s and cool waters. Long Island Sound is an estuary; an estuary is where fresh water from the rivers mix with saltwater from the ocean, creating brackish water. Lobsters are studied because they are important to commercial fishermen and marine biologists. They are also essential to their ecosystem because of their place in the food web. They are predators as well as scavengers because they look on the bottom for dead and decaying creatures, and also eat fish and crabs.

The legal lobster size has a minimum of 86 millimeters; anything smaller is illegal and must be thrown back. A fine will be issued if lobsters smaller than 86 millimeters are kept.

Shell disease is caused by a bacterium that attacks from the outside of the lobster through its shell (Marceau and Mistry, 2011). It only affects the shell and the carapace at first but over time it starts creating internal damage (Marceau and Mistry, 2011). Shell disease keeps the lobster from milting and may cause death if it is severe. The four stages of shell disease are: Stage 0: no symptoms; Stage 1: 1%-10% coverage of its shell; Stage 2: 11%-50% coverage; Stage 3: more than 50% coverage of the shell.

Based on Marceau and Mistry’s past studies, it is expected that fewer lobsters will be caught throughout this study than in 2009 because the population of lobsters has been decreasing for the past several years. In 2006, Payne and Rice (2006) caught 423 lobsters over a three-week period. At the peak of the lobster fishery in 2009, Estrin and Wiseman (2009) caught 759 lobsters over 15 days. In 2011, Marceau and Mistry (2011) caught 493 lobsters over a three-week period.

In comparison to previous studies, it is expected that a smaller percentage of lobsters with shell disease will be found than last year. It is also expected that mostly sublegal sized lobsters will be found because of the proximity of the pots to the shoreline. Previous studies show that more male lobsters were caught than female lobsters, so it is hypothesized that more males than females will be caught (Marceau and Mistry, 2011). 


Ten lobster pots were set out in Long Island Sound on July 30, 2012 (Fig.1). Seven of the lobster pots were placed along the Avery Point shoreline and three lobster pots were placed around Pine Island. The pots were pulled July 31, August 1 through August 10 and rebaited each time. The pots soaked overnight except over the weekend when the pots soaked for two days.

All lobsters and by-catch were removed from the pots and measured to the nearest millimeter using calipers. The lobsters were measured from the eye socket to the end of the carapace. The crabs were measured from one side of the shell to the other side of the shell. Gender was also determined for the lobsters and other by-catch such as crabs. All lobsters were checked for shell disease using the shell disease index. After all the lobsters and by-catch were measured, they were released back into Long Island Sound. 


During this study, a total of 284 lobsters were caught. Pot 2, off of Pine Island, caught most lobsters with a total of 46 individual. Pot 4, near Avery Point caught the least lobsters with a total 12 individual.

The majority of the lobsters were caught without shell disease. Eighty four percent of the lobsters exhibited no signs of shell disease, while only 12% of the lobsters had a shell disease index (SSDI) of 1. Three percent of the lobsters had Stage 2 shell disease and only 1% of the lobsters had Stage 3 shell disease.

Ninety lobsters were caught within the range from 70-79.9 millimeters; this was also the highest amount of lobsters caught in any other size class. The second highest size class consisted of 59 lobsters ranging from 60-69.9 millimeters.

Ninety-three percent of the lobsters caught were sublegal. Therefore 93% of the total lobsters caught were smaller than 86 millimeters. Only 7% of the lobsters caught were legal size. Out of the 284 lobsters were males and 96 of the lobsters caught were females.

The lobster population in Eastern Long Island Sound has decreased since its peak in 2009 when a total of 759 lobsters were caught. The lobster population in 2011 was reduced to 493 while 284 lobsters were captured this year. 

It was expected that fewer lobsters would be caught this year compared to previous years. Fewer lobsters were caught this year than in 2006, 2009 and 2011. The population is still recovering from the die off in 1998-1999 from shell disease. Another possible explanation for the decrease in population is an increase in water temperature because the lobsters thrive in cool water. 

It was expected that a smaller percentage of lobsters with shell disease would be caught compared to lobsters without shell disease. This hypothesis was supported; 44 lobsters with shell disease ranging from stages 1-3 were caught compared to 240 lobsters without shell disease. Although shell disease is spreading across the Northeast coastal areas, a small percentage of lobsters with shell disease were found (Somers, 2005). Thirty percent of lobsters in Long Island Sound and Southern New England have shell disease. If the sample time was increased more lobsters with shell disease may have been captured. 

It was expected that more sublegal sized lobsters would be caught than legal sized lobsters. This hypothesis was supported because there were 263 sublegal lobsters and 21 legal sized lobsters captured. Commercial lobstermen have been removing legal sized lobsters from the environment and that is why the results show more sublegal sized lobsters were captured. 

The last hypothesis stated more male lobsters than female lobsters would be caught. During this study 188 male lobsters and 96 females were caught, supporting this hypothesis. Male lobsters like to stay in shallow waters unlike females with eggs. Mature females migrate to deeper waters than males (Factor, 1995). That may be why only 1 female with eggs was caught.

This study is important because lobsters are an essential part of the ecosystem as well as impacting the food chain. The lobster fishery is important both economically and because it provides a food source. The lobster industry also provides jobs for many people. 


Estrin, N., and N, Wiseman. 2009 Lobster Populations in Eastern Long Island Sound. SMSP 2009 session 3, Project Oceanology, Groton, Ct

Marceau, J., and H. Mistry. 2001. Lobster Populations in Eastern Long Island Sound. SMSP 2011, Session 3, Project Oceanology, Groton, CT

Payne, C., and J. Rice. 2006. Lobster Populations in Eastern Long Island Sound. SMSP 2006, Session 3, Project Oceanology, Groton, CT. 


The staff and students of the 2012 Project Oceanology Ocean Diversity Institute Session 2 wish to thank the following for their generous support:

Pfizer Incorporated

Russell Smith, Project Oceanology

Ian Morrison, Project Oceanology

The families of the staff and students



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

Email blue crab reports to:  

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- Email: 

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

[1] See Bangor Daily News July 31, 2002 – A sealed Aquaculture System used to recycle water for Halibut culture experiment had tested positive for hydrogen sulfide. The sludge had built up enormous hydorgen sulfide levels in the organic matter and when disturbed released toxins heavier than air that smell “similar to rotten eggs”.
[2] Incidence of Fin Necrosis In Winter Flounder, Pseudopleuronectes Americanus (Walbaum), from New Haven, Peter J. Auster, The University of Connecticut Marine Sciences Institute, Marine Research Laboratory, P.O. Box 278, Noank, CT 06340. Report to Schooner, Inc., 60 South Water Street, New Haven, CT 06519 1981 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

New Video Highlights Blue Crab Research at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

From Katie Sinclair, blue crab intern at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center:

The blue crab is the star of a new video! Ecosystems on the the Edge, a new video series from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, explores threats facing important habitats in the Chesapeake Bay area. Check out the video "Blue Crabs: Top Predator in Peril" above to learn more about the risks to the blue crab population, as well as how this important predator plays a key role in the bay ecosystem. The video also provides a good look at SERC scientists putting their crab wrangling skills to use, and sheds light on some of the past blue crab studies. For more tips on ways to help the blue crab population remain healthy, visit

CBS also published an article based on the video available here.

Monday, July 8, 2013

2013 Connecticut blue crab report #4

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
Megalops Report #4
July 3, 2013

The 2013 Blue Crab Year

·         Large Crabs in Lower Central Connecticut Rivers
·         Juvenile Crabs Surge in Central CT
·         Large Crabs Abundant in Refugia Habitats
·         Megalops Set Now Feared Lost; A 1960s Crab Season?
·         Long Term Larval and Species Surveys Key to Understanding Habitat Quality.
Large Crabs are in Central CT Rivers
Crabbers are finding male crabs in lower rivers, large and hungry. Crabbing surged upward the last week of June, some of the best reports, Oyster River, Branford River and the lower reaches of the Connecticut River.  Catches have definitely improved --the large clean blue shell males mostly and catch rates have inched up, 8 to 12 crabs/hour with some high catches reported in the Oyster River, Old Saybrook.  But the crabbing conditions have been poor.
 “Worst crabbing weather I have seen,” I quickly agreed a few days ago at Clinton Harbor. The constant rain by June 24-28 had turned the Connecticut River brown, thought to be the result of leaf breakdown, tannin.  The amount of broken and dissolved leaf matter being washed into the Connecticut River must be enormous.
The conditions for spring crabbing in Connecticut have generally been poor; the only places that have crabs are the usual deep holes that get a good change of salt water. Some of the deeper areas close to salt water have been good, Old Lyme especially. The tidal wedge at the Essex Town Dock is building but weaker than usual; again the heavy rain can disrupt salt water flows. The NAO storm track (see report #1) continues to hold pouring tremendous moisture into New England.
On a discouraging note, the one and two inch crabs have yet to appear. These crabs are often in the upper reaches of salt marsh creeks and salt ponds, but the weather has even delayed a survey of Tom’s Creek in Madison; a good reference point as its marshes exist in an area that remains relatively free from huge runoff.  Connecticut may have lost the spring and fall Megalops; they just are not showing up.
A seine survey of the Long Wharf- New Haven tidal flats recently yielded not one small blue crab. 
A good news item is that enormous numbers of 3 to 4 inch crabs have made it. 
See you at the docks. Tim
Crabbers Surprised by the Abundance of Sub Legal Crabs
As temperatures increased for the last two weeks of June and rains accelerated, crabbers found large male crabs very willing to take bait.  Again the boaters who trapped the deeper saline holes and banks found the crabs first with some nice catches, but by July 1, crabs had spread out from these deep holes into the flats; crabs reached the Baldwin Bridge, Old Saybrook, June 27th and increased. What surprised even the most veteran crabbers was the increasing number of 3 to 4 inch sublegal crabs.  From almost none caught before June 15 to a few the 20th, to 20 to 1 now and upward.  One crabber “pulled out” because the small 4 inch crabs had consumed all the bait (Westbrook).  The growing number of sublegal crabs points to a future upward catch level, but it’s still modest, six to 10 crabs/hour, some less and some more than that.
Still poor news from the western end of the state and regional crab reports no western activity. If the one and two inch crabs made it, we will know by July 15th.
Large Crabs abundant in refugia habitats
Pockets of habitat refugia have been known in New England for over a century. Periodic closures of salt ponds have been documented for hundreds of years. These coastal habitats are unique and being relatively shallow and therefore warmer and brackish they were the last places that blue crabs existed in the colder stormier 1960s. These salt ponds often had long narrow inlets to the sea that allowed tidal exchange but subject to storm openings and closures. They protected crabs from salt water predators and floods.
A typical salt pond habitat history is captured in the US Fish Commission section on New York Fisheries (1887), but could be considered typical for Southern New England Salts.
These semi enclosed ponds had soft bottoms with patches of eelgrass and provided seasonal small catches of blue crabs, most for home consumption. Reports from New York in the 1880s show the signs of these blue crab populations just before  the beginning of The Great Heat in the 1890s.  New England’s climate was moderating and was about to have the intense heat waves in the 1890s. Blue crabs soon became prevalent and spread out beyond salt ponds and moved in to rivers and coves after 1898. It was at this time that Southern New England fishers noticed the increase in blue crabs as lobster populations plummeted and then crashed shortly afterward 1898-1905.
Megalops Set Feared Lost -A 1960s season?
Is it any better crabbing now? The past 15 years as compared to the 1960s, I would have to say without a doubt it’s better now, much better.
The 1960s was a tough time for Connecticut’s coast and also the people who lived near it. The winter gales of the early 1960s were constant- some of the beaches in central CT weren’t really beaches anymore, the constant energy had stopped most of the sand from them exposing multitudes of cobblestones. A short step from a sea wall was now a life threatening fall to rocks below often amidst the remnants of seawalls from long ago.
In 1965, my father woke me in our Madison Webster Point home, “Come with me, you need to see this.”  I’m certain the thrill of a sub zero walk in February to the opening of Tom’s Creek wasn’t exactly what I had in mind that morning, but I went and now am glad I did. When we got to the mouth of Tom’s Creek, it resembled an arctic rendering- frozen sand ice walls and snow. My father said something like, “Look out beyond, you need to remember this—I don’t think you will ever see this again.”  He was correct.  Icebergs were along Hammonasset Beach along with 10 foot high ice walls, the 1950s steel jetties put in under the 1950s flood and erosion were covered in sea ice like pictures of ships rigging where the thinnest line grew to the size of a telephone pole.
To the west towards Seaview Beach, ice walls several feet high were piled on one another looking more like the Arctic Circle than the summer community it was several month before. It was cold!
For the Connecticut shore, the constant gales were furious in the mid 1960s, 50 to 60 knot winds were common, mostly westerly’s after rain from a few Nor’easters a hundred miles away. Another person was watching that 1965 winter. John Hammond on Cape Cod was watching it also, an oyster grower who purchased Connecticut seed oysters and planted them on firm bottoms in Chatham Oyster Pond River, he had also noticed the severity and intensity of the 1960s, gales from Chatham, Massachusetts which protrudes sharply into the Atlantic Ocean. Soft shell clams which harbored blue crabs years ago had dwindled from 200,000 bushels in 1900 and was now down to only 540 bushes.  In a 1968 Army Corps of Engineers study, the production of hard shell clams and bay scallops was each in access of 10,000 bushels. The colds and stormier weather had helped those fisheries he concluded, but natural oyster sets had always been limiting on the Cape, so for over a century Cape Cod oyster growers (planters as Mr. Hammond often referred) had purchased Connecticut seed oysters. Cold water slowed oyster growth and the numbers of bottom shifting storms had increased. (Pg C15)  From 1870 to 1945 Nantucket the closest observation station recorded 160 gales around 116 had easterly wind components, the much feared “Nor’easters which had gale force winds that went on for hours.
Some of the early 1960s winters he described as punishing and blue crabs were then very scarce. In fact, the 1968 Army Corps of Engineers report and public hearings Mr. Hammond testified mentioning “concerns about cold temperatures and shellfish growth, during a public hearing Army Corps that talked about stabilizing the Chatham Inlet, which had narrowed and became dangerous shoals after storms. Although lobsters were covered at length in three different sections of the report, blue crabs were not mentioned at all, not once. What the report did mention was a surprising surge in bay scallop populations, in Pleasant Bay which had included some “border” disputes between Orleans and Chatham regarding bay scallop territory. Bay scallops were the crop that gathered the headlines, blue crabs were not included in the report, and Mr. Hammond subscribed to the larval drift theory believing that Cape Cod blue crabs were born hundreds of miles to the south and carried each year with tropical fish north by the Gulf Stream current. He had sometimes seen non native fish in the Oyster Pond River.  He felt the winters were too long and cold for good blue crabs reproduction and it killed blue crabs. The cold which had so impacted bottom oyster growth was about to moderate. 1965 was the last year Long Island Sound froze over in that century.
The Megalops sets of last April and August are now feared lost from such a cold “1960s” winter. The larger crabs have done better, in the deeper saline pockets --habitat refugia from the cold and cold winter of 2012-2013.
What could that mean to our present blue crab population – everything -- if it continues to become colder and stormier?
Long Term Larval and Species Surveys – Key to Understanding the Habitat Changes for Blue Crab Populations
The Great Heat would bring many changes to New England’s fishing industry; the Atlantic Halibut trip reports show that by the time of the Gloucester fisher strike, it was already too late for the halibut. They had already sought more northern and colder waters. The last good halibut catches were made in progressively colder and deeper waters, very much different than the 1870s when halibut were caught practically on the beaches.  Offshore fishers would often see new warm water species move north as valuable colder water species to their dismay could move as well. Fish were able to move (swim) when faced with changing habitat conditions.
As the climate moderated oysters which had been harvested to scarcity now set on any clean surface available. The period of warmth (and relatively few storms) would cause the greatest surge in oyster populations in centuries, helped now by aquaculture.  This warmth and storm free period helped create the oyster industry but born in The Great Heat, it would soon perish under the North Atlantic Oscillation with colder temperatures and frequent hurricanes. Oyster sets now “failed” and offshore beds destroyed by the 1960s as oyster hatcheries were being built, much as the trout and lobster hatcheries before them. With habitat instability we often turn to life cycle modification. The Great Heat would make the greatest period of habitat instability for several species including the blue crabs.
Oyster growers a century ago had come to realize the importance of wind drive oyster larva. As George McNeil of City Point once described it as “the sound effect” connecting the prevailing July and August winds as from the southwest, driving oyster spawn back along Connecticut’s coast. The reason, he explained, while Long Island Sound was a relatively small body of water the southern side, New York’s north side of Long Island did not get a heavy shore oyster set like Connecticut.  The oyster spawn Mr. McNeil felt, was blown towards the Connecticut side, not New York’s.
The oyster industry recorded its oyster sets, realizing the oyster set was the future of its industry. Much effort was expended at improving the habitat quality for oysters, preparing setting beds, hardening soft bottoms shelling and washing or stirring of shells to remove silt.
Unfortunately no one then 1900s was looking at the habitat quality for the blue crab Megalops sets; it wasn’t intentional, then in northern areas blue crabs were not considered a resource of value and when blue crabs increased after 1898 most fishery managers then were surprised rather than concerned. Attention then was upon the decline of lobster populations, a resource of value and of much concern.
For centuries fishery managers had focused upon valued species because that is what the public also viewed as important. That resource use bias is still with us today – as demonstrated by the repeat of the same reversal, lobsters for blue crabs. Many reports and grants have been issued for the decline of lobsters, but none it seems for the incredible resurgence of blue crabs in Connecticut.
Fishers often noticed the onset of habitat change, years before fisheries changed, and one of the most responsive species to habitat quality was the blue crab. One of the things that fishers noticed first was the dramatic changes here in habitat quality was from energy storms. The areas most impacted were bodies of water with inlets.
This is a New York Baymen testimony from an Army Corps of Engineers publication titled Storm Damage Reduction Reformulation Study
Bayman 5: Before the 1938 hurricane created Shinnecock Inlet, Shinnecock Bay’s only source of salt water was Moriches Bay. It was like Mecox Bay. There wasn’t much flush here. It used to stink from the lack of flushing. There were also crabs because of the brackish water before the 1938 Hurricane. The trouble is getting the crab spawn to survive. After the breach you could get 30-40 bushels of blue crab/day. Tiana Bay had a good set of blue claw crabs 3 years go. One bayman found 1 bushel of pregnant female blue claws. He left them in the bay so that the spawn would have a chance to survive, but the spawn died anyway. Yet the spider and sand crab spawn lived that same year. Before the 1938 hurricane, there were so many flounder that there was not enough food for them, and none of the flounders grew bigger than your hand. After the hurricane when the inlet was created, the flounders started to grow, but there were fewer of them. Now there are hardly any flounders.
Excerpted from: Atlantic Coast of Long Island, Fire Island Inlet to Montauk Point, New York- Baymen Interviews – April 2000 -Page 2-3
As energy flushing increased it helps provide food, greater water exchange (long a problem in the bay scallop fishery) and restore oxygen levels.  The comments about blue crabs are especially valuable.  Sorry no dates but I suspect it to be 1940s to 1950s.  And it wasn’t just the New York or Niantic Bay scallopers who noticed this habitat change – it was the eastern Connecticut winter flounder recreational fishers who provide the most compelling testimony in the early 1980s.  Fishers in eastern CT had long suspected restricting railroad causeways from reducing tidal flushing (energy pathways).  Tests in some rivers bisected by railroad causeways found long ago buried oyster beds now covered by several feet of Sapropel. Those same habitats became productive blue crabbing areas three decades later.  By that time the oyster shell flounders habitats were distant memories recorded in fishing journals kept by many sports fishers.  With energy pathway open and cooler temperatures – those habitats could in fact reverse, again.
Those with natural energy pathways blocked will take much longer to reverse if they reverse at all- and the important ones historically to watch – salt ponds.
Some of the quickest habitat reversals are recorded in Southern New England Coastal salt pond habitat histories. Here if energy blocked tidal exchange coastal farmers and fishers would “help nature out,” taking the matter into their own hands literally.   A blocked stream outlet would mean the ruin of a herring and alewife run, an available crop centuries ago to residents who did take a dim view of this habitat “reversal.” This is an excerpt of a letter provided me while working at the University of Connecticut Sea Grant regarding habitat changes in Quiambaug Cove, Stonington, Ct.  It describes the practice that was common to my southern New England salt ponds.  In times of heat and low energy, shallow and poorly connected inlets tend to “heal” or become blocked by sand. Landowners wishing to maintain the previous habitat value would reconnect passageways to permit tidal exchange. Horses and oxen teams were often utilized and it was termed breaching. This is a segment of a letter mailed to me in June 30, 1987 from Edgar P. Farnell, whose family had property at Stonington, Quiambaug:
“The buildup of muck and heavy vegetation is more of a concern. It certainly has had an effect on the cove as a whole including clams, oysters, crabs, fish and mussels. When the Filter Plant was built many years ago, the north end of the Cove increased the buildup of heavy mud that has continued for many years.
“When my father (deceased 1972) was young, he recalled that every spring landowners along the cove would use a team of oxen and plow to dredge the cove every year between the bridges at a perigee tide. This, no doubt, improved the tidal flow, because when I was a boy, the Cove had little of the muck which now prevails.
“I thought my Father’s recollection might be of help in validating your forecast that dredging the area between the bridges would have a dramatic effect on the quality of sea life within the Cove.”[1]
Energy and Temperature have had and continue to have tremendous impacts to fisheries’ habitats in New England. That includes the blue crab.
Email blue crab reports to:
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
The Sound School is a Regional High School Agriculture Science and Technology Center enrolling students from 23 participating Connecticut communities.

[1] Personal communication from Edgar P. Farnell to Timothy Visel, Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program of June 30, 1987.