Wednesday, April 9, 2014

2014 Connecticut Blue Crab Special Report #3

From Tim Visel of The Search for Megalops:




The Search for Megalops Special Report #3

Did the 2013 Late Megalops Set Survive?
The Sound School Regional Vocational Aquaculture Center
Inter-district Marine Education Programs
Capstone Project ISSP Blue Crab Monitors
Blue Crab Research in Long Island Sound 2014
  • A Blue Crab Census Day –
    The Sound School – Revised, April 1, 2014
     
    A Note From Tim Visel
    As more and more of the southern blue crab population indices show drops in Blue Crab abundance questions have come in asking if this is the end of the “Blue Crab Explosion” of the last decade.  Probably not – such quick changes are rare in fisheries history.  I was gloomy last year (Report #1, March 26, 2013) but central and eastern Connecticut had a great season.  So there will be Blue Crabs to catch, all attention is now being turned to the Megalops set – which was very late last year (Report #6, October 24, 2013).  Is habitat quality changing and one of the factors might be the first growth of eelgrass.  I also want to thank The Blue Crab Forum™ for opening a spot for my habitat newsletters under the Fishing, Eeling and Oystering thread.  I have obtained many emails about winter flounder habitats (most definitely improving) and lobsters.  Recent reports indicate that large numbers of adult lobsters have moved back into Western Long Island Sound.  It will be interesting if the Western DEEP Trawl Surveys (very important to gaining long term fisheries/habitat knowledge) shows an increase from these lobsters.  Lobsters will-- if sea water temperatures remain cool-- seek to regain habitat “space” lost in the 1998 die off in Western Long Island Sound. 
     
    For those Blue Crabbers interested in Blue Crab quality might find, the IMEP newsletter of March 24, 2014, “Did Eelgrass Help the Rise of Blue Crabs” found in the Fishing, Eeling and Oystering thread as IMEP newsletter # 13 of interest.
     
    A century ago the United States Fish Commission started a “Fish Census” conducted in Connecticut until 1958 (New York 1938).  It was a one day (week) statewide (as much as possible) look at both saltwater and freshwater fish populations.  I have several 1940s reports for both Connecticut and Massachusetts, they required enormous staff and on the Cape also Alewife “keepers” that cleared Alewife runs of leaves and sticks during the same time.  Today, the Audubon organization still continues this as a nationwide bird census with volunteers.
     
    So what about a Blue Crab Census Day?  Just a one or two day look focusing upon the 1 inch to 2 inch size – I have an idea of a simple small crab trap (personally attended) for just counting – a basic presence or absence look – did the late Megalops set survive – all small crabs of course need to be returned without injury back to habitat.
     
    I hope that some crabbers will join some Sound School students in a “census” for small crabs.   
    See you crabbing,
    Tim
     
    A Blue Crab Census Day
    A blue crab newsletter effort was started in the fall of 2010, called The Search for Megalops – Rise of Blue Crabs.  2010 was an excellent blue crab season and the Connecticut River fishery with baited lines and dip nets at times exceeded 50 crabs/hour with six lines and or 6 traps.  New England’s news media called it a New England “blue crab explosion.” From historical accounts blue crabs had not been that abundant here since 1912 during the 1880-1920 so called “Great Heat.”  Connecticut was experiencing the largest habitat reversal in a century – lobsters for Blue Crabs.
     
    The Search for Megalops on line was established in March 2011 and consists of observations and email reports from blue crabbers mostly in CT.  To date observations indicate a tendency to migrate east as the summer progresses with blue crab waves reaching the Connecticut River on or about the first week of July.
     
    The Search for Megalops reports are now carried on 3 major websites, the International Blue Crab blog spot™, and Connecticut Fish Talk™ and the Blue Crab info forum™.  It is an observation study only – not qualified for standard operations (QAPPs) although many megalops reporters include, tide, air temperature, cloud cover time of day, and sea water temperature.  Those habitat observations are included whenever possible.
     
    Why The Census -
     
    In 2011, three strong year classes were identified 1 to 2 inch – 3 to 4 and 5 inches and larger.  Colder winters reduced catches in 2012, and last year a huge crab Megalops hatch happened in October – thought to be too late to survive.  That being said a week 3 to 4 inch year class (2013) and a strong eastern adult (legal size 5 inches point to point) is all that remains.  The 2012-2013 season did not indicate any previous significant year class survival (1 to 2 inch) and the adults that sustained the 2013 eastern Connecticut season are thought to be the last of the several million blue crab wave that left the Housatonic River in July 2011.  In July 2012 and July 2013 New Haven Harbor held millions of blue crabs primarily in the West Haven/West River shoreline west of The Sound School.
     
    With recent year class survival uncertain now west of Milford, and very few reports of 1 to 2 inch size blue crabs in all areas, (last summer) many blue crabbers feel that the fishery is near or at a habitat failure.  Several indices to our South such as New Jersey now show step declines (March 3rd 2014).  That recent cold winters has perhaps become recently too cold to have an early or spring megalops set.  That it why the outcome of the fall set is so important – (Megalops #1 January 15, 2014) (Megalops #2 February 1, 2014) and a spring survey to see if any can be found might give us an early look at the 2014 Blue Crab season.
     
    Several students at The Sound School have offered to help and write a section of the June newsletter for important blue crab locations – New Haven to the Connecticut River.
    - These are the suggestions - 
  • New Haven Harbor – various sites
  • Branford and Farm Rivers
  • Guilford Route 146 -
  • Guilford Sluice Dock
  • Madison/Guilford East River Boat Launch
  • Madison/Guilford Route 1 Bridge
  • Clinton – Town Dock lower Hammonassett
  • Clinton – Town Dock Indian River
  • Westbrook - Town Dock – near Harry’s Marine   
  • Westbrook Rt. 153 Bridge
  • Old Saybrook – Route Oyster River Dredge Cut – across from McDonalds
  • Old Saybrook  - CT River Baldwin Bridge DEEP public Fishing Pier
     
    Many crabbers have asked recently about the future and do we see (observe) any reproductive success as compared to the 2008-2011 massive year class recruitment period in western CT.  That is a question that needs surveys and observations.  Sound School students could observe and make reports (by writing observation) what they see – important would be the presence of any small blue crabs.  They would then author a newsletter article.
     
    Outline – One day one time – observation (mid tide to high tide) final schedule depends upon water temperature.  We will provide the log books sheets and small traps, and bait – no fee.  Registered volunteers can pick up materials at The Sound School in New Haven at the aquaculture office or at Captain Morgan’s Bait & Tackle Shop, located at 21 Boston Post Road, Madison CT.  There is no charge for the small trap, bait or log book and volunteers can keep them after the survey (the traps will make good  killifish traps as well).
     
    Draft at present April – Note *
     
    April 10 select locations – meet with interested students
    April 15 review protocols
    May 1 issue equipment – traps, nets, lines, etc
    May 15 confirm locations/dates (window will depend upon tides)
    May 20 review data needs – survey should be around June 2nd and June 5th
    June 15 article is ready – combining all site specific locations – prepare newsletter
    July 1 Megalops set prediction for websites – newsletter appears
     
    * All students may send in observations of crabbing activities throughout the summer at any time.
     
    The latest Search for Megalops (blue chip) newsletters can be found on The International Blue Crab Blog Spot™, The Blue Crab Info forum™ (Northeast Crab Resources) and Connecticut Fish Talk™ Salt Water Reports.
     
    This summer is a key Blue Crab observation year; it follows two very cold winters which could have eliminated the fall Megalops blue crab set.  In the 1950s three cold winters in a row were devastating to Blue Crab populations in southern New England.  Blue crabbers all along the eastern seaboard will be watching for our surveys predicting the 2014 Blue Crab Season.  All observations of small crabs that can grow and become part of the fishery are now very important.
     
    Questions please email me at tim.visel@new-haven.k12.ct.us
     
    Email your blue crab reports to: tim.visel@new-haven.k12.ct.us
     
    If interested in helping with the Blue Crab Census, please email me at tim.visel@new-haven.k12.ct.us and register as a volunteer.
     
    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.
      
    Tim Visel
    The Sound School

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