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Author Topic: BlueChip's 2011 Connecticut Blue Crab Reports Compiled  (Read 15972 times)
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« on: July 11, 2011, 01:48:00 PM »

The Blue Crab Year -
The Search for Megalops – July 11th 2011- Report 8
You do not need to be a scientist to report!

Reports 1 to 7 are available – email Tim Visel at [email protected]

•   Something is happening here- Branford to Old Lyme Crab catches surge
•   Blue Crabbing Improves as Temperature Rise in Central CT
•   Third Megalops hatch confirmed in Greenwich
•   Connecticut River salt water tidal wedge reaches Essex Town Dock on July 2nd, US Geological Service Information
•   Adult Blue Crabs observed moving east at night along West Haven shoreline

The past five days have seen a marked increase in crabbing success in Central CT.  Catches here surged from New Haven to the Old Lyme shoreline.  Although the western portion of the state crabbing remains outstanding: the central sections are now picking up.  Some reports of seeing numerous crabs in the Farm and Branford Rivers, Hammonasset River, Clinton Harbor and the first reports of Blue Crabs in North Cove, Old Saybrook and off Point of Woods, Old Lyme.  This account is with a report of a second podding group movement behavior of large patches of Blue Crabs moving east along the West Haven beaches at night.  This appears to be a natural process of high density to low density dispersal, apparently using the ebb times or one comment, the strong moon tides may act as a travel assist. Blue crabs compete for space and food and can be very aggressive.  (I think anyone watching Blue crabs fight over a piece of bait will agree,) so with so many small Blue crabs in a small space podding, in this case may extend or increase the carrying capacity of our Long Island Sound.  However, the reports of such numbers of Blue crabs moving in a concentrated way along the shore is, I believe unprecedented.  The best example of this movement might be in Clinton Harbor.  One crabber I spoke with, until recently, was taking home four to twelve crabs after a few hours  with two traps.  On July 5, he caught 42 crabs in two hours; he believes that these crabs were not here on July 3-4.  It’s like, according to his report, they appeared overnight.  Something else is changed:  the population mix is now very different.  Before 1 or 2 females/trip were caught before this new population (according to the comments), but now half large female and half of that is carrying sponge-eggs.  He had never seen so many “eggers” before and although he was pleased with the increase in the hard shell male crabs- “jimmies” - almost all of the crabs (except 1) were of legal size.  That was a concern because last July 75% of the crabs here were small non legal sized crabs.  He returned hundreds of small crabs each trip, today, just 1; this is completely different from last year.  These crabs were not here last week according to him.

My trip to Old Saybrook was even more perplexing.  Checking a few of the usual productive areas I met with some crabbers, one that I see on a regular basis who called out to me: “Something is happening” as I approached a five gallon pail- “got about 20 in one hour.”  This was a surprise as for weeks catches languished about 6 to 12 a trip.

“Take a look,” (which I did), “look closer, see the yellow underneath?”  The crabs had a distinctive yellow shade around the mouth area, some more than others but all had it.  “Hard shells-- shells hard as a rock.  They were not here last Saturday.”  The explanation continued that all spring, he had been catching jimmies, large hard shell males, 6 – 7 inches, all big.  Shells bright white and clean shells, but these were different, smaller (several 4.5” crabs had been thrown back) hard shells and the yellow color.  These crabs are different, they are not like the crabs here before.  Did I know why?  “Not certain,” I said, “but it did follow a pattern—a large amount of crabs 3 to 4 inch had been reported in Milford, then West Haven, New Haven Harbor started picking up the 3 to 4 inch sizes the third week of June and now Branford, Clinton and Old Saybrook crabbers were both saying something is happening.”  “The crabs appear to be moving east,” I replied, “at night.”

We won’t know for certain until the Connecticut River salt water wedge forms.   I have been looking at the crabs caught here in central CT since June 10th and they did not have this yellow tinge in the mouth area, also some of the crabs had a mossy brown coloration around the claws.

The high density of 3 to 4 inch crabs in the Milford/Stratford areas could be dispersed by tides, but the reports of sudden appearances of Blue crabs in the east could be tracked.  So, if anyone notices a sudden change in male/female population mix or a different female/sponge (eggs) mix of legal size, please let me know.  Also be on the lookout for these “yellow” crabs; show a distinctive yellow patch around the mouth area.  One crabber said this is common just before the crab sheds its shell.

Again, the concept of large numbers of Blue crabs moving east is not found in any scientific or published reports I have about Long Island Sound, this is new territory so to speak.  Extensive podding behavior has been documented for the cold water tolerant spider crab for Long Island Sound (Libinia emarginata) but not to my knowledge for the Blue Crab.
The test case for this podding behavior may in fact be already upon us in the Connecticut River.  For several months, the freshwater outflow has been extreme.   Any crabs from last year were eliminated by several months of fresh water.  According to Jon Morrison of the United States Geological Service, the salt water wedge reached Essex Town Dock on or about July 2nd.  The Connecticut River flow is down to about 10,000 cubic feet of fresh water/second.  Still sounds like a lot of fresh water but in May/June the flow was enormous.  You might want to check out the website that the USGS and Jon established; it’s a great resource for the Connecticut River and it is a format that’s clear and understandable.  It is:

Blue crabs, if they appear at the Essex Town Dock, got there by swimming up the river, and not from upstream.  The dynamics of the Connecticut River might be the test case for the movement of crabs in the east.  But, if crabs arrive and they have yellow patches that might be a strong clue.

Western reports continue to speak if a third wave of small crabs a late May/June Megalops hatch.  Small crabs less than an inch to one inch across have been observed in Greenwich— by the thousands.  A report from the Norwalk area is very similar- many small crabs about an inch across.  Catch rates in the west continue to climb ranging to 20 to 40 crabs/hour with 80% still undersize and in one report- 90% undersized.  The early reports from some veteran western Blue crabbers were absolutely correct, we are going to have a great year.

Unfortunately the East –to the Rhode Island border remains very quiet.  So any eastern reports, even poor ones would help.  In the central sections of the Connecticut shoreline, if anyone notices a change in crab appearance, male/female mix or catches crabs with that yellow patch, please let me know. Something is happening in the central sections, we just don’t know for sure what it is yet.  One this if for certain, it’s time to break out the crab nets between New Haven and Old Lyme.  Thanks so much for all of the observations.

Observations this year will help guide the survey methods for next year. 

Every observation is important you do not need to be a scientist to participate!

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.

All observations are valuable, please email them to me at [email protected].

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 [email protected]

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« Reply #1 on: July 20, 2011, 02:35:38 PM »

The Blue Crab Year -Connecticut Shoreline
The Search for Megalops – July 20th 2011- Report #10
You do not need to be a scientist to report!

Reports 1 to 9 are available – email Tim Visel at [email protected]

•   Niantic Bay Report – No crabs, isolated population in Jordan Cove; Alewife Cove, no report; eastern areas, no reports.
•   Population mix changes in west as blue crabs shed into legal sizes
•   Yellow face crabs in New Haven Harbor
•   Small crabs confirmed off Fairfield, Bridgeport, Stratford area
•   Another western Megalops hatch should enter fishery September 1; more hatches possible late summer to September
•   Crabbers’ comments: What is happening?

Thank you for all the crab catch/habitat observations – they continue to be extremely helpful.

My visit to Niantic Bay last weekend was somewhat disappointing.  I had expected to see blue crabs.  I did see some blue crabbers however but no crabs.  A few times I inquired about ‘luck’ but was answered by none.  A couple of people asked what happened, expecting to find a bountiful supply of crabs like last year, but now nothing.  I didn’t get into a long conversation, but you could tell disappointment was in the air.  One of the boaters I spoke with was also dumbfounded last year declaring ‘you didn’t need bait here to go crabbing; last year people just walked the docks and netted them off the poles,’ but this year, nothing, and if the crabs weren’t here, where were they?  Questions I could not answer and because so many eastern and central crabbers have requested this information, I thought I would summarize what I believe is taking place.

First of all, after reading some of the western reports these past few weeks, I guess I started blue crabbing at the wrong time, the 1960s. Blue crabs were scarce then and a few of my recent conversations have confirmed my suspicions – we now have significant habitat changes in Long Island Sound.  The crabbers I talk with mostly in New Haven – Old Saybrook area, agree and want to know about suitable areas for small blue crabs – they want to know why, this year is so different from last year, and most importantly, “Where are all the small crabs?” and “What happened to all those adults? We surely didn’t catch them all?”  Good questions.  Last summer I most likely would have attempted to respond to both but this July, I’m not so certain.  It is apparent from last year’s wonderful catches that eastern habitat areas can support immense blue crab populations (at one time last July catch rates at the Essex Town Dock exceeded 90 keepers/hour) of many sizes but cannot sustain them.  Most of the crab resource in the east last April was gone, where I do not know.  I have an idea but it’s not good for eastern crabbers. 

The western sections tell a completely different story here.  Crabbers found in April a sizeable already legal size population with a huge 3 to 4 inch population; an emerging 1 to 2 inch population and now another dime to nickel size crop of small crabs on the way.  I didn’t have any eastern blue crab reports like that.  Not a one.   In fact, the absence of small crabs in the east has been the concern most often expressed.

Where are the small crabs from last year?  Again I’m uncertain.  The east is missing almost all of its crabs.  What I did obtain was several reports detailing a small male population, mostly over wintered in deep creeks or dredged marina channels.  Several crabbers expressed these concerns from the CT River area. 

Crabs were few and no small ones observed --what happened to them?  I believe they could not withstand the fresh water runoff or predation from high salinity predators.  In other words, they didn’t make it; several million crabs were gone, and it’s not just last year’s crabs that were missing, but the previous years’ as well.  Most researchers agree that blue crabs live between 5 and 8 years, so missing from the population matrix was surviving/returning crabs from 2007, 2008, 2010 (2009 was a poor year in the east) while 2008 was also good; it did not match 2010.

As more and more central and eastern crabbers return to the shore with great anticipation, based on last year’s experiences, conversations all point to all too familiar question, what has happened and realizing that small crabs shed into large crabs, the absence of so many of them.  The Run.  The ratio of caught crabs, all sizes to the number of legal crabs is a way to look at this. Many reports have them and assists in understanding the differences.

Legal to sub legal – run

Early eastern run- when crabs were caught- the run- was nearly 1 to 1.  In other words, almost every crab eastern caught was of legal size.

The western run tells the difference.  It started at 3 to 1 than 4 to 1, and now is 5 to 1.  In other words the west started with a sizeable sublegal population that has now grown in size; for every legal crab returned in the west, 4 or more crabs are released.  With the 1.5” to 2 inch size, now growing into a size that can be observed (trapped or netted). The Run may go to 5 to 1; for every legal crab returned 5 sub legal are returned.  Several western crabbers report a run closing to that amount, but should quickly change as crabs shed into legal size.

Catch counts:

Again large differences

East – April May June – catches (counts) ranged from none to 12 most between 4 to 12 and only recently into the teens and beyond (most after July 1st.)

West – April to June – catch counts were already in the 20s and now in the 30s.  With so many sublegal crabs on the way I expect counts to increase some 40s to 50s already in with hundreds of sub legal crabs returned and news of another a new potential crop on the way. I expect counts to increase.

Length of trip – many crabbers have put in hours fished.  It’s a good measure.  I use it too.  Went for four hours, caught 20 crabs, etc. so information of catch/hour is helpful especially comparisons between western and eastern areas.

Again, here large differences: some eastern crabs reported 4 to 6 hour trips and producing only a few crabs while western spring reports were almost 4 to 5 times the trip/catches of those to the east.

Catch per effort – many reports refer to the number of hand lines or baited traps used. This is the most difficult to assess, many reports vary as to effort.  Some use 3 or 4 traps, other lines. Some use a mixture of lines and traps.  In a four minute period last July, my son Willard caught 17 crabs from 4 hand lines and four traps at the Essex Town Dock, but I’m assuming from the length of trip and differences in catches, the return/unit effort was also very different.  For a two week period crabbers in Clinton Harbor averaged less than 1 crab/trap/hour, sometimes much less than that.

Habitat observations – Again they have been very helpful; the east was concentrated early in the deeper dredged channels while the west, coves, marsh banks and creeks.  The west appears to be more distributed habitat while the east concentrates in tidal creeks. Salt ponds seem critical but most of the salt ponds in the east were filled in or blocked by causeways.  The western areas the sub tidal areas seem to be much larger and healthier.  The Fairfield area in particular has been identified many times as significant source of small crabs.  The bottom line is we just don’t’ know a lot about the ecology and habitat conditions.  That is why we need to locate areas that support Megalops.

All these eggs are produced somewhere and in large enough quantities to represent our current western population.  Some questions have been raised about “female black aprons”, a sign of egg maturation before extrusion- these are not true sponge crabs; it is the external orange shaded egg mass, the so called sponge.  But every fertile female crab can produce 3 such sponges between June and September and each can contain 2 to 8 million eggs.  The sponge changes color from an orange/yellow to a dark brown or black just before the egg capsule bursts- water temp 65° or higher. They then drift subject to currents.  The first stage is called Zoeae, not recognizable as a blue crab.  After about a month, it turns into a Megalops which takes about a month, molting into what looks like a crab (the Megalops stage looks like a shrimp or lobster).  In about 3 more months, these crabs are still small about the size of a nickel (or 4 months total).  Therefore the reports of dime to nickel size crabs are the result of last season’s Megalops.  This year’s Megalops should show about 60 days after 65° water temp or spawning.  If some western areas reached 65° in June and sponge crabs released Zoeae we should see “Connecticut” Megalops in early August.  Three to four waves of Megalops set are possible and is one of the study research areas.  With extended warm temperatures sponge crabs may have viable Zoeae hatches into September.  One of the unique features of Megalops is that they also can hibernate in cooler temps for about 3 months.

The Megalops is the most interesting and may I say, the most uncertain segment of the blue crab life cycle.
A September Zoeae can become a Megalops by December, and remain dormant in locations (which we do not understand) for about 3 months.  If the water warms in time, Megalops can survive the winter and start to grow and begin molting into small crabs in early spring.  In June, July, they would be about the size of a nickel the size now reported of the Fairfield to Bridgeport region.  These crabs most likely represent the last viable hatch from the fantastic 2010 crab year.  They are next year’s crabs and they should reach 3 to 4 inches by September, hatches beyond now should be 1.5 to 2” by September, the late hatch should produce that overwintering Megalops.  That is what we hope to locate and measure.  That would answer the question of Connecticut female crabs produce Megalops that make it; (over winter) another theory and one that I may need to abandon is that Connecticut Megalops came up upon the Gulf stream currents, that our Megalops was excess Chesapeake Bay Megalops drift theory.  But what is now happening in Connecticut appears to be that our crabs can over winter, our crabs do sponge out, and that incredible densities of Megalops exist.

What crabbers have reported – rephrased as needed/combined reports from dock visits also.

1.   The prevailing winds southerly blow the eggs (Zoeae then Megalops stages) back along Connecticut’s coast increasing the hatches.  It’s now fairly common to see such hatches, while fishing all summer long in the water.

2.   Crabs move and dispersed by strong tides, moon tides, and it’s not one wave of crabs but many; smaller waves did occur in May and June, but only reached Branford.  The July “wave” made it all the way to the Connecticut River; it’s like a switch one day none the next day loaded. (Perhaps east and west as well).

3.   We should return all females, (it’s not like before) west of Milford they make it (over winter) now, breeders for next year.  Years ago they didn’t (egg out) now they do (survive) East of Milford sponge crabs appear to be scarce.

4.   Crabs move along the coast do so for the purpose of getting into the marshes to shed.  If you get a lot of crabs at the mouth of creeks or rivers, and then follow them up to the upper reaches, they do not stay until they shed, they march up the river in the spring, in the fall they march out.

5.   Small crabs earlier last year, warmer temp and tides dispersed in (them) in June; that was what the eastern crabbers had, this is why last July they had so many shorts, we have that now every year in the west (Note: several current western crabbers report 80% of the crabs are still sublegal, while in the east 80% are now legal.)

6.   Habitat conditions much different in the west/east; water is ocean cooled too many large rivers (Connecticut, Thames) too much fresh water.

7.   Most of the small crabs come from the Stratford/Bridgeport /Fairfield Creek areas.  The creeks loaded with shorts, stripers feed on them at night- ebb tides.

And it’s not over- reports now include a huge set of dime size crabs along the Milford shoreline and moving with the tides.  The predation upon them must be intense, in fact a recent Sound School graduate reported that he caught fluke off West Haven beaches that were loaded with the small crabs, and the stomachs were just packed with small blue crabs.  Blue fish caught recently at Saybrook Point had small blue crabs in the gut cavity.

As for the yellow color, Steve Joseph one of the Sound School teachers here brought one to show me last week.  It had a beautiful band of yellow underneath, but according to some veteran crabbers, it’s a hard shell crab soon to shed.  The crab that Steve showed me did have a rock hard shell and looked like those observed in the Oyster River, Old Saybrook a few days ago.

I guess we wait now to see these small crabs make it east, no reports from Niantic east.  Perhaps in the next few days with central CT catches modest to good, a sign of small crabs would be welcome.

The western reports all include good to excellent catches with a large percentage of small undersized crabs, but that May/June population of 3 to 4” crabs will be soon shedding into legal size within the next two weeks, the caught/keep ratio (run) should change.  Western crabbers will experience a surge in keepers around the first of August.  I think they are correct; it should be quite a surge into a size that can be observed (trapped or netted). 

Thank you again for all the crab reports/comments.

Observations this year will help guide the survey methods for next year. 

Every observation is important you do not need to be a scientist to participate!

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.

All observations are valuable; please email them to me at [email protected].

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 [email protected]

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« Reply #2 on: July 27, 2011, 02:34:38 PM »

The Blue Crab Year -
The Search for Megalops – July 27, 2011- Report 11
You do not need to be a scientist to report!

Reports 1 to 10 are available – email Tim Visel at [email protected]
•   Eastern Crabbers – Hope that moon tides will bring more crabs – no reports;
•   Summer flounder/fluke abound at several central Connecticut crabbing sites;
•   Central Connecticut catches are low, but crabs are present in all areas; western reports are good to excellent;
•   Winter die off appears larger than anticipated- cold fresh water took its toll in many CT Rivers;
•   Why study blue crabs and not lobsters?  Questions about climate.

Thank you for all the observations and even photographs.  I appreciate them very much.  I try to answer them within a day or two, but some days I cannot respond but will as quickly as I can.  It may take a few days but please be patient, and it’s nothing about the reports. The reports have been great and extremely helpful.[/b]

What a week to be writing about climate change and its impact upon fisheries!   A couple of crabbers here reported it’s too hot to go crabbing.  It has been very hot at the beaches, concern is beginning to increase from some crabbers that the very hot weather and ample nitrogen/plant nutrients will create conditions for massive plankton blooms.  I’m not certain how the very hot weather will impact crabbing but it’s taking a toll on the crabbers!  Stay cool/careful everyone.

It seemed for a few days last week every dock stop included someone landing or unhooking summer flounder/fluke; most were around 13”, still too small for keepers. Two Clinton Harbor fishermen caught over 20 fluke all between 13 and 15 inches. But one Niantic Bay fisherman commented that this was an indicator for him, no blue crabs.  Last year he was catching them with his fluke rig, often not hooked – the crabs simply refused to let go of the bait.  Last year he caught several “messes” of crabs while fluke fishing.  He had today caught several short fluke, but no crabs.  This is almost identical to a Clinton Harbor report several weeks ago that crabbers could not keep fluke bait on hooks last summer for the blue crabs.
The eastern sections remain slow, I visited the usual Groton Poquonock River blue crab sites and no crabbers.  So I was unable to ask about crabbing because at three locations no crabbers.  I guess that is the report.  As for the central sections, crabs are present, but you really have to work for them.  One of the most consistent reporters in the Guilford/Madison area had caught 10 legal crabs for 10 hours of hard crabbing.  Blue crabs are in Oyster River and North Cove and at the DEP Baldwin Bridge fishing dock (Old Saybrook).  One conversation at the DEP Baldwin Bridge Pier told me that the blue crabs made it to the dock on July 3rd, but several inches of rain pushed them out (back) again to return about a week later. Several crabbers have mentioned the moon tides as moving the small crabs and it’s something that comes up often.  If the moon tides move crabs (and at this point I think there is some merit in this theory), this July serves perhaps as the last hope for eastern crabbers.  I guess it’s possible but we would need to see that 1.5” to 2” inch small blue crab population soar and soon. 

According to area marinas, large blue crabs did survive the winter and huge blue crabs are reported in the Black Hall River, Old Lyme.  It’s just that there is only a few of them.  Some of the more experienced crabbers have stated that the colder spring temperatures and huge fresh water outflows brought the eastern crabbers back to reality.  2010 was a great year; we had 1.5”crabs and 2” crabs early April-May; a large influx of 3” to 4” crabs in June and some surviving adult males in dredged areas.  It wasn’t one factor, it was three: water temperature, low rainfall (at critical periods) and a quiet, relatively storm free winter.  Large numbers of small crabs were all along the Connecticut shore last April-May; this year there were few.  We had an “old fashioned winter” which killed many blue crabs.  Winter kill was reported many times, but not the reason first though.  The eastern crabs, many of them it was felt, starved; they died because stored food reserves ran out, favoring those larger hard shells that had time to store up food.  The water did not warm fast enough and they died on the bottom.  That is what several marina workers reported.  When the water was clear, they saw dead (large) blue crabs on the bottom.  I’m looking into this now—the length of hibernation period and about how many days’ crabs can store food for the winter.  As for the fresh water theory, I think that has much merit, the Connecticut River for example the flows this spring were high and there is no way crabs can live for months in fresh water.  North Cove might be an interesting study site, it has a dredged federal anchorage area and functions more like a deep salt pond.  It might hold a pocket of cold saline water, in fact, North Cove is one of the few eastern sites to contain a sizeable number of 1.5” and 3” crabs.  They could have made it here while other areas could not.  I think it will be a few years before we can conclude exactly what happened – all we know now is that large population of eastern and central crabs are missing.

Much more survival in the west, but even with last winter’s cold the western sections warmed soon enough to allow these crabs to end hibernation and begin feeding in March.  Crabs up our way were killed although it’s called “winter kill”; some crabbers report that the crabs just starved to death, ran out of stored food and reserves and marina workers in Westbrook, CT putting out the docks (the water is remarkably clear then) noticed all the crabs dead in April.  Dead crabs were also observed in Norwalk Harbor and Westport areas.  It is thought the waters did not warm fast enough and they starved.  Fresh water is also a concern and it appears in the east that dredged navigation areas resemble to some extent salt ponds, crabs dug in and made it in many of these locations.  The Connecticut River not so and fresh water toxicity is suspected to be the chief cause of mortality.  Very few females were caught in the east this spring, almost 100% were males.  Some crabbers report females leave the coastal areas for deeper water.  I do have reports from a Guilford fisherman, John Walston who worked on an eastern rig trawler out of Guilford CT in the 1960s.  He told me of huge blue crab “bedding areas” between Kimberly Reef and Faulkners Island.  Mr. Walston was trawling for winter flounder at the time and would pick up two to three bushels of female blue crabs from December until the 3rd week of February, every fishing day, when, according to Mr. Walston, the starfish came in and ate them all.  He called the area then the “blue crab graveyard of Connecticut”.

A couple of fishermen have asked about the blue crab/lobster relationship and some lobstermen have asked for information about them.  It’s not been a part of the blue crab study, but I did commercial lobster with my brother Raymond from 1966 to 1981.  So, with the records and reports with modest experiences, I have put together a short response for the people who have asked about lobsters, both commercial and the 10 potters which includes my son Willard, the latest DEP marine fisheries report for lobsters do not appear to be good in fact, they are very bleak, I’m sorry.  DEP Marine Fisheries puts out a newsletter and frequent lobster resource assessments.  It is an excellent source for up to date information.  My research is how habitat conditions have changed using historical records, climate reports and current conversations with fishers.   It is a long term study looking at energy, climate, temperature and resource abundance.  It’s connected to the blue crab study but not its focus.

Why Blue Crabs? Why Study them now?

It’s becoming clear that the low point for crabbing in Connecticut may have occurred between 1968 and 1973.  After 1974 crabbing seems to have increased and our winters became milder.  More good year than poor but in 1998, recruitment started to improve.  In 2002, it really started to increase and from 2005 on it’s been much better than the late 1960s.  The year 2010 everyone has agreed has been the best blue crab year in recent memory; some say much longer than that, back a century.

For long time fishing trends we need to know more about habitat conditions and habitat quality for Long Island Sound.  Key to this apparent increase in crabbing has been to some extent dependent upon our crabs’ ability to survive our winters and young crabs- and even the Megalops, to grow each spring.  The truth of the matter is, it’s getting hotter, and a warm or climate condition favors the blue crab, and does not favor the lobster.  While our blue crab population appears to be increasing, our lobster population is now at very low levels.  Recruitment in the 1950s and 1960s for lobsters was highest in the kelp/cobblestone near shore habitats along the beach.  That habitat matrix likes storms to clean the cobbles along the shore for the kelp.  Winter flounder fishermen in the 1960s and 1970s will recall catching the kelp hold fast the stem of kelp that grips the cobble and the rock to which it was attached, that is why.  Kelp prefers a clean habitat and somewhat cooler temperatures and so do lobsters and winter flounder.  With today’s higher temperatures and lack of a good cleaning (storms) that habitat has failed, and lobsters here have declined.  At the same time warmer temperatures and few storms is what blue crab habitats need and as our lobster population declined, blue crabs increased.  This has happened before in Connecticut and also Rhode Island a century ago during the so called “The Great Heat” 1890-1920. 

If climate conditions now resemble that of Chesapeake Bay, soft shell clams and oysters should also show increases and they both do. In 1972, the Connecticut oyster industry was declared a federal fishery disaster and grant in aid funds made available.  It had declined 98% from 1910 levels.  It was at the end of the cold period that oyster sets were then infrequent and weak.  A century ago, during the 1890s, it was hot here in Connecticut  and the 1898 oyster set was the set of the century, only matched five or six years ago.  The past few Connecticut oyster sets have been very strong.  The blue crab may therefore be the best indicator organism we have to monitor heat driven shallow water habitat changes in our state.  It is perhaps the beginning of a species shift, more fluke, black sea bass, oysters and soft shell clams, while colder preferring and energy dependent species are collapsing such as the lobster, bay scallop, tautog and winter flounder.

Why Blue Crab Megalops?

The blue crab Megalops is perhaps the new Long Island Sound canary in the coal mine.  As we try to understand what climate/energy driven habitat shifts means for our fisheries, our near coastal habitats and the fish themselves.  I don’t’ think at this point I can say blue crabs have displaced lobsters but I can say that habitat conditions today may favor the blue crabs and not lobsters.  If we continue to warm (and most researchers agree that this is the case) then the age of the blue crab is upon us, in fact the reproductive capacity may show it is already here.  That is why the Megalops is so important to research, so that we may be able to answer so many habitat questions. Looking at blue crab habitat and where it is can help with the issues of global warming and sea level rise – so important to Connecticut fishermen.

Thank you for all of your reports; each contribution is processed and appreciated and becomes part of our history. Observations this year will help guide the survey methods for next year. 

Every observation is important you do not need to be a scientist to participate!

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.

All observations are valuable; please email them to me at [email protected].

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 [email protected]

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« Reply #3 on: August 02, 2011, 12:58:01 PM »

 The Blue Crab Year -
The Search for Megalops – August 2, 2011- Report #12
You do not need to be a scientist to report!

Reports 1 to 11 are available – email Tim Visel at [email protected]

•   Boaters’ catches surge past shore crabbers in many areas; heavy rains suspected.
•   Welcome East Coast researchers: New York, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland studies express interest in Connecticut Megalops search.
•   Western crabbers alarmed at dead crabs following intense heat and street water runoff event.
•   Moon tides called a marine Metro-North for small crabs.
•   Gulf Pond, Milford identified as possible source of small blue crabs for area.
•   What about Megalops, when do they set?

This report was off to an excellent start, many positive reports early at the end of the previous week.  Although crabbing had definitely improved overall in the central and western sections, it does not represent as yet the observed abundance last year for the same periods.  I had even picked up new reporters for Westport and in the Saugatuck River, Guilford and Old Lyme, Connecticut.  Reports included tremendous increase in small crabs at RT 146, Guilford; many crabs now at the Sluice Dock, Guilford, a surge of 4.5 inch crabs in the Oyster River, Old Saybrook and a possible wave of 2 inch crabs in the Branford River, a first sign of crabs entering the Saugatuck River also.  Then the extreme heat came followed by heavy tropical like rains.

The bottom dropped out of catches turning sharply negative then followed by reports of dead crabs on July 26, 27, and 28th.  Even the run distribution changed after positive numbers: western 50/50 about half of the catch was now legal and even in central sections for the first time it had dropped to 75% legal and 25% sub legal, western and central reports count/keepers surpassed the teens, had climbed into the 20’s and some even higher.  Eastern Reports are so few I can’t comment about catches in general, then the heat and heavy rains hit with one/two punch and catches/reports dropped and turned negative.  If reports continue to mention dead crabs especially that 1.5 to 2 inch crab that could impact the remaining blue crab year, I’m not certain.

Some reports mentioned a 50% drop in catches compared to the last trip and some after catching a few crabs simply gave up.  Just a few days before these areas were good to excellent.  Several reports mentioned the dramatic difference in water temperatures and clarity.   The water near shore felt “hot” or the area was full of brown water.  Three veteran crabbers report of seeing whole dead crabs the following two days.  After heavy rains two other in central areas expressed concern for what had been relatively quiet tidal areas, were now for a period a “rushing torrent of brown water- hot brown water no less.”

I feel it’s safe to say that rain hitting these 100° plus pavement surfaces delivered a warm thermal discharge that was over 80°.  This event comes just two weeks after emailing a colleague about the problems with very hot storm water for Long Island Sound fisheries.  Chester Arnold, a friend and at one time coworker, was one of the first University of Connecticut researchers to recognize this important area (1980s).  He developed with several others a program called “NEMO” – Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials.  The program is now a national model and supported by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and is available online at GIS and computer simulation details the impacts of impervious paved surfaces on watersheds, such as those surrounding Long Island Sound.  Many feel (myself included) that hot street storm water flows will be one of the largest environmental issues (with global warming) confronting Long Island Sound managers during the next century.

So to respond to several questions around salinity and water color, the browns are usually attributed to partially dissolved leaves especially oak leaves or silt / soil from street basins.  The warm water can shock organisms but the largest factor is that warm or hot water is able to retain less dissolved oxygen than cold water.  So it’s not just one factor but three: thermal shock, possible oxygen deficiency and finally salinity shock- salt or brackish to fresh water in just a few minutes.  It seems that these areas should quickly recover, stable salinity and temperature profiles in a few days, but storm water surges can overwhelm estuarine organisms and while fish flee or try to swim out of the impact area, crabs tend to grab onto the bottom and resist being washed quickly downstream.  This defense mechanism may be detrimental in these instances and surges such as the one experienced a week ago can kill blue crabs and nearby Megalops sets.  Most sub tidal species: crabs, shellfish, benthic fish species can take some salinity shock, but going to hot fresh water that perhaps was low in oxygen most likely killed the observed dead crabs.  They did not quickly “flee” the area.  It’s discouraging to see this and I have seen something similar with my son Willard in 2004-2005 when a sudden spring fresh set killed thousands of 2” crabs in the Connecticut River by the DEP Baldwin Bridge launch ramp.  It was May and we observed very dark brown water and along the shore, inches deep of small dead whole blue crabs.  (It was too cold to be shedding.)  These crabs I believe were killed by a huge fresh water surge a few days before.  This event last week is different, as it was hot water not cold and so sudden as compared to a three day gradual rise. Mortalities last week could have been from multiple factors, salinity, oxygen and temperature.  It would be interesting to see how quickly impacted areas recover, especially those key 2 to 3 inch sizes.

A long time CT River crabber (boat only) who used crab pots on the lower CT River only caught crabs in the deepest river and channel areas- “the shallows were completely dead.” (No crabs.)  They are in the deep holes.  He had no trouble catching crabs; in fact to him the crabbing had improved.

If you were catching crabs from a boat last week and did well, you were not alone; the fact is in many areas, the boaters did much better than the “shore” crabbers.  But, to really appreciate the impact of these rains on one location, I have listed a series of trips by one of my most consistent reporters.

o   June 20th- 12 keepers, 2 soft shells, run 50% 1 to 2 inches observed about 100 crabs today;

o   June 30th- 32 keepers, 1 soft shell, observed about 150 crabs total, run 40% 1.5 inches; 30% 3 to 4 inches; 30% legal length;

o   July 13th- 28 keepers, 6 soft shells, small crabs too numerous to count, run 1-2 inches 60%; 2 to 5 inches 20%; legal size 20%;

o   July 27th- 15 keepers, 3 soft shells; observed about 75 crabs total, 80% 1.5 to 2.5 inches; 10% 3 inches and 10% legal size;  (Water was really warm for the first time in 10 years of crabbing here or better, I saw a good number of dead crabs.)

One factor related to heavy flows of fresh water into streams and rivers is the nonappearance of a Connecticut River Blue Crab Fishery. The blue crabs according to my last report have not yet appeared at the Essex Town Dock.  I spoke with a crabber recently who came down “to try”. He had been crabbing at the Essex Town Dock for more than 30 years, the best years in his mind were hot and dry, less rainfall.  He had tried for about 3 hours and not a crab, but he just wanted to “check it out – too much rain,” he commented.

Last week the shallow shore areas were not the place to be but the deeper areas did much better.  In fact some recent “just in” reports for July 29, July 30 tell of much better catches in the East River, Guilford and Oyster River, Old Saybrook.

I have received some inquiries from New York researchers and crabbers.  Please continue sending in reports for New York blue crab habitat/catch observations even though the Sound School is in New Haven, Connecticut; we are all on one Sound.  I’m especially interested in reports from Port Jefferson to the west and how this year compares with last year.

Also, researchers from Georgia, Mark and Virginia are now on the distribution list, Welcome aboard!  Several exchanges of information here already occurred.  Thank you for the interest. 

Thanks again to Steve Joseph one of the aquaculture teachers here through which we have obtained some live shots of “yellow face blue crabs” for the University of Connecticut Sea Grant College Program.  The term is not ours, but belongs to that Oyster River, Old Saybrook crabber who caught a whole pail full in just a few minutes a couple of weeks ago.  It shows a distinct yellow band (like someone painted the face area around the mouth.)  They show no other signs except they are rock hard shell crabs, packed with meat. (Nothing has been linked to anything being wrong with them).  Two crabbers claim they are crabs that missed the fall shed, the shells are old, and Steve Joseph did mention that the yellow face crabs showed scraps, scratching on the shell surfaces and looked like they had been in the same shell for “a long time.”

On a more positive note, the Gulf Pond, Milford area has been identified as potential prime Megalops habitat.  The reporter described moon tides reaching high up in the marshes and moving large numbers of small crabs out: a “marine Metro-North” so to speak.  This impact of strong marine tides acting to move crabs has been mentioned several times.

Gulf Pond could be the source of small blue crabs observed off the West Haven beaches and predated upon by fluke earlier in the summer.  The report mentioned (a flashlight nighttime observation) observing many small crabs being carried out to the lower pond past the Buckingham Avenue Bridge.  The bridge apparently bisects this coastal salt pond and could be the source of crabs at Silver Sands State Park and West Haven beaches.  It will be definitely considered for a Megalops set serving site next year.

What about Megalops?

Several observers have asked about the blue crab Megalops and it being the title of the monitoring effort, they are good questions!

First of all, blue crabs have a pre Megalops staged called Zoea (Zoeal stages) and looks like a small shrimp or lobster; they really don’t look like a blue crab and are tiny.  A good bioscope or microscope is needed to see them.

They grow past several stages drifting with tides before becoming a Megalops and at this point they do resemble a lobster or crawfish with a central body, tail and bilateral claws.  It’s the Megalops that “sets” – it sinks to the bottom and enters the next stage of becoming a true crab.  They begin to take on the appearance of a mature blue crab or “star” when they are about the size of a pea, by the time they reach dime size; the carapace points are very much evident.  At this time, they tend to prefer bottom cover, eelgrass margins, estuarine shell and submerged vegetation/debris.  They need to hide from a wide range of predators (including at times other crabs) and seek shelter in the salt marshes along our coast.

It’s at this point they become vulnerable again to tides: ebb tides can carry small crabs from creeks and rivers out to Long Island Sound and potential meals it seems for a very good sized population of fluke along our shores, but this year also blue fish and striped bass as well.  They need as small crabs, healthy sub tidal habitats like salt marshes containing salt ponds to grow.  It seems to be a coupling of two critical habitat types: marshes with deep sub tidal habitats, one without the other carrying capacity appears to be diminished.  This may be the largest difference between western and eastern areas: the ability to catch, hold and mature Megalops sets.  How do we locate these critical (new word today) “essential” blue crab habitats; we look/search for the Megalops.

The Search for Megalops
Preliminary Sampling Methods/Protocols – August 2011

The movement of small crabs by tides and currents is well known.  I recall fishing for striped bass using green crabs with my father and brother, Ray in the 1960s.  We lived next to a small tidal creek in Madison, CT and would fish the ebb flow when all the “free food” got swept out of the creek to an offshore assemblage of waiting hungry striped bass.  We just hoped they would see our drifting crab bait as well.  They did.  So it is possible for crabs to be moved around but not the Megalops, once they set they want to stay and hide.  Their soft bodies are easy prey for almost everything and the attrition loss from this stage must be extreme.  Some researchers have speculated that only 2 to 6 adults will make it from a 2 million egg sponge female crab.  So the presence of Megalops in a particular habitat should indicate the site of set.  To check/sample for Megalops, two items are needed, a sampling net and collection bag or jar. In addition because the Megalops looks like many other crab species, we need to develop a “key” so that species can be distinguished from other crabs such as lady or green crabs. Mickey (Howard) Weiss mentioned last winter an interest in developing an Internet based video key for many crab species.  Many marine biologists will recognize Dr. Weiss as the founder of Project Oceanology.

I have asked a former DEP staff person (now retired) to help us with the proposal next year. His name is Alberto Mimo. He was the person to originate and largely developed the very successful DEP monitoring student/citizen program called Project SEARCH.  Project SEARCH was developed for fresh water habitats.  To quote from the Project SEARCH foreword:

Project SEARCH was created and developed by Alberto Mimo with the Office of Communication and Education in the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (CT DEP) in 1986.  This program was started to provide students and opportunity to participate in field science education and help the environment by getting involved in research, monitoring, and inventory of a local stream.

In addition, I have also asked a few of the DEP Project SEARCH staff and others associated with its development if survey protocols could be modified for the Search for Megalops as a saline sub tidal monitoring effort.  The initial stage of the Megalops project is a basic presence/absence study.  If some of the sampling techniques and survey methodology to collect riffle dwelling organisms could be modified (with Project SEARCH serving as a guide) for the marine environment.  Project SEARCH (which we use extensively at the Sound School) indexes habitats based upon ratio of riffle dwelling organisms in fresh water streams.  It forms a statewide citizen/student monitoring effort.  A predetermined index is used to classify habitat based upon the number and ratio of organisms collected.  All the Project SEARCH documents have been put online by CT DEP staff; they can be found at  It represents years of work and it is quite extensive having sections for every aspect of the program.  If you are interested in fresh water stream habitats or in surveying fresh water streams, I can’t recommend the program enough.  We are considering these types of research / reporting efforts suitable for high school graduation Capstone Projects or civics / FFA public speaking events.

What makes the Search for Megalops feasible for high school academic year projects is that the blue crab Megalops stage is unique in its ability to delay in cooler weather transitions to “star” crab stages.  (If this sounds like a species defense mechanism against cold temperatures it is; compares to the specialized bottom tail skin cells in winter flounder that activate in low oxygen / high temperature conditions).  Megalops surveys could take place in the fall or early spring.  I suspect some areas that obtain a good Megalops set in the fall get killed by storms or cold during the winter.  Other areas in the western parts of the state (especially between Stratford and Fairfield) should contain enormous quantities of Megalops just from the past two years’ observations.  I also anticipate some of the eastern CT rivers / coves should also have some, the Mystic River and Poquonock River estuaries should be good field study sites; western locations such as the Mill River (Rippowan) Restoration Project should also be surveyed, for Megalops and perhaps biodiversity rejuvenation together.

For those interested in some very good pictures of the Megalops – they are available online; see the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center K-12 Education Blue Crab Online Resource:
This fact sheet has some excellent diagrams and photographs as well as a detailed life history explanation.

The continued reporting by many new and veteran crabbers is so valuable to our study and I thank each for their contribution and hope they continue to do so.

Observations this year will help guide the survey methods for next year. 

Every observation is important you do not need to be a scientist to participate!

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.

All observations are valuable; please email them to me at [email protected].

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 [email protected]

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« Reply #4 on: August 15, 2011, 12:14:16 PM »

The Blue Crab Year -
The Search for Megalops – August 15, 2011- Report #13
You do not need to be a scientist to report!

Reports 1 to 12 are available – email Tim Visel at [email protected]

•   Western Connect Salt Ponds identified as key blue crab habitats – seeking locations of sponge crabs;
•   Mystic River blue crabs appear, Mason’s Island area;
•   Three age classes now represented in many areas- 2”, 4”, legal size;
•   Blue crabs reach Essex Town Dock, August 1, about 60 days later than last year;
•   Catches surge in west as run approaches 50% but crabs move into deeper waters;
•   Where are the female sponge crabs?

From all the reports compiled this year, those protected shallow salt ponds appear to be the source of most of the small blue crabs.  The conditions west of New Haven that contain these salt ponds are shallow so they warm up quicker and sheltered from the most severe storms during the winter, appear to be more suitable for blue crabs.  They must receive at least three waves of Megalops as nearly all reports break down the sizes into three distinct age classes: the 1.5” to 2”, the 3” to 4”, and the 5” and larger.  I don’t think this is a coincidence.  I’m reviewing close to 90 reports and the sizes are remarkably similar.  East of New Haven the habitats are different and so is Long Island Sound, it’s waters are subjected to more wave energy from fetch; it’s also colder from the influence of ocean / sound interaction and receives more fresh water (mostly from the Connecticut River).  I think the western Long Island Sound is the source of crabs for the east.  To be certain, we really need to find out about egg bearing (sponge) female crabs, not to be confused with the black or darkened aprons (abdomens).  But a female egg bearing blue crab will have a spongy mass (so the term sponge) that has an orange/yellow color that turns brown as the egg mass ripens.  We should see increased amounts of true sponge crabs mixed in with large males at the deeper ends of rivers and coves in two weeks I suspect that it will be the crabbers who fish the deepest areas with traps will be the ones who will see them the first.  But, I’m not certain about that either.  We don’t even know where large populations of female crabs overwinter. A report obtained a couple of weeks ago mentions that in the 1950s, 1960s as incidental catches to bay scalloping that a large female egg bearing population burrowed into the mud in Little Narragansett Bay off Napatree Point off Stonington.   A more recent report (SCUBA dive report) off the Rhode Island Charlestown Breachway reported many female sponge crabs were in that area last year.  But many crabbers have asked where do all the eggs come from?

What Crabbers Say

From most of the conversations these past two summers, the belief is that crabs tend to move to the east, and some veteran crabbers believe very few of our crabs survive to reproduce in eastern Connecticut.  The reason for the surge in crabbing in eastern and central regions, since the 1990s, is the western area is producing more (many more) small crabs or Megalops or both.  The east and some of the central sections do not contain the habitat carrying capacity of the west except for adults who bed down in a few coves: Bakers Cove, Groton; Jordan Cove, Waterford; North Cove, Old Saybrook; Lost Lake in Guilford; Smith Cove, Niantic Bay. The upper salt pond at the tidal entrance of Quinnipiac River is also suspected as the early source of New Haven Harbor blue crabs. The only significant habitat changes appear to be dredged marina channels; they might be long and narrow but they function as deep saline semi protected coves and the numerous reports of the areas containing large male jimmies this spring are too similar to ignore.  I don’t think they contain vast amounts of Megalops however.  Last year there were numerous reports of small crabs along the open shoreline, a rarity for eastern and central sections and can only be explained by three options:
The 2010 Blue Crab Year:
1.   Small crabs were dispersed earlier in March and April by tides from western areas;
2.   A Megalops set survived in some eastern areas from the west, overwintered perhaps (source unknown) because of mild relatively storm free winter;
3.   A strong Megalops set occurred that survived in the east even though the 2009 crab year here was only modest to fair.  And the few creeks and suitable cove habitats for Megalops (again unknown) supplied the immense record breaking eastern and central populations last year.

At this time, I’m inclined to believe #1 the movement dispersal of crabs by tides.  I think from time to time #2 happens and detailed in one of the program reports and #3 is part of the focus of the study:  The Search for Megalops.  Do eastern and central sections obtain Megalops sets and are they Connecticut Megalops?  Or do our Megalops come from Rhode Island or perhaps Gulf Stream transplants from crab producing areas down south?

I think it’s going to be a few years before we know of eastern and central Megalops survive, the first question is of course do they set here?  As one crabber mentioned to me all these crabs come from eggs, so look for the eggs.  How true, and direct to the point.  His comment was instead of the search for Megalops, it should be a search for the sponge crabs.  I couldn’t debate that because technically it’s correct.

To address some (but not all) of the questions raised by the three options mentioned above.  Sue Weber has available three program reports: her email is: [email protected] and these can be emailed to you or mailed.  The first report is dated September 8th, entitled: The Search for Megalops – Blue Crab Great Years – and Then None? (September 8, 2010) It reviews habitat and climate conditions and historic changes in Blue crab populations.

The second paper reviews change in habitat carrying capacity of two Madison CT creeks: Fence Creek and Toms Creek in the early 1970s. The first monitoring proposal sought to look at eastern CT creeks for Megalops.  The title is: Tidal Creek Clam Beds and Blue Crab Monitoring Student Research Projects – Where do All The Blue Crabs Come From – The Search for Megalops.  This report contains a section on the possible impacts of insecticides upon the blue crab in shallow tidal areas (December 2010).

The third report EPA/DEP Long Island Sound Study HRI Committee – The Connecticut 2010 Blue Crab Season – The Search for Megalops – Aquaculture Science Projects for ISSP.  This report is the basis of the study today, to look at the western sections as well as the east.

The Habitat Restoration Initiative (Committee) is a part of the EPA/DEP Long Island Sound Study.  A key habitat type estuarine shell/shell litter has been discussed in terms of identifying species specific preferred habitat.  The locations of dense blue crab larva (Megalops sets) have not yet been determined in Connecticut.  This third program report also details a special project, Capstone or Independent Study and Seminar Program (ISSP)for New Haven High School students, monitoring shallow areas for the presence of blue crab Megalops – “The Search for Megalops – Aquaculture Science Projects for ISSP.”  In the collaborative model within our outreach and inter-district programs other shoreline high schools could participate in such a study.  Any interested school systems, science teachers should email me at [email protected]  Observations from fishermen, interested crabbers would help define and locate possible survey sites: that has already occurred and I appreciate all the responses to date.

I’m receiving reports that some trap catches (primarily from boaters) in the Mystic River Mason’s Island area have increased; also increased activity in the Black Hall River, Old Lyme.  In fact, some boaters tell of increased catches while many shore reports show declines.  Some of the veteran reporters claim that crabs have left the shallows, preferring a 10 to 20 feet deep area.  I’m not certain if the shallow waters are now too warm, but reviewing several shore/boat reports, the boat deeper water trips generally catch more crabs in half the time as shore reports.  While many reports indicate boat/trap fishing is better, crabs are now moving into the upper reaches of rivers, including the Connecticut River.

I believe the first Essex Town Dock Blue Crab caught this year was by a Niantic fisherman who came to catch some fluke.  He had heard the Connecticut River was full of fluke (more towards the mouth I believe) and came to give it a try.  He fished for several hours with two crabbers who tried for several hours without luck, but left a line with chicken, when it got stuck, eventually freed by tidal action and came up to the surface with a big male Jimmie, using his landing net he caught the crab late Friday afternoon, July 29th, about 60 days later than when crabs arrived at the Essex Town Dock last year.

On Saturday, an experienced crabber and one who I spent many hours with last year crabbing caught 3 large males after three hours of crabbing.  He was just pleased to see some crabs, but the largest catch observed was on Monday, August 1, when a Hartford fisherman and his son crabbed for 4 hours – they were all big, between 7 and 8”, some of the largest crabs were moving up, he had seen some crabs swimming in with the tide.  He had tried a week previous for several hours and not one crab – “They were not here last week.”  I replied that it looked like they arrived a few days ago.  Although he and his son had caught 11 huge blue crabs, he was somewhat disappointed; last year, same date, they had caught over 200 crabs in the same location.  I commented, “It’s not like last year.”  He agreed, but it was still great for them to come down to the water and catch a few.

The mouth of every eastern and central tidal creek and river has large male crabs, and for the first time, some reports from the Mystic areas (no word as yet from Niantic/Groton, but some crabbers were getting ready to try as I am writing this report). What is apparent is that the arrival of large male crabs arrived a day or two after the strongest moon tides and from reports “now moving up” the rivers, in increasingly large numbers.

The fluke fishermen at Saybrook Point noticed the influx of big crabs August 2nd; for several weeks they have enjoyed some modest to good fluke fishing and some blue fish also, but in the last few days, they have been bait hooking blue crabs (all male, all large); so keeping the bait on hooks is becoming a problem for all these fishermen.  To make the conditions more frustrating, blue fish have arrived so the crabs have become a nuisance to these fishermen.  They have been asking where have all the big blue crabs come from as there continues to be very few small crabs in the open waters along the shore in the east. One thing is for certain, these large male crabs swam or crawled to the Essex Town Dock from other areas and most likely from the western part of the state.  They do not resemble the crabs of June (no yellow face crabs) and are giants – 7 to 8” males.  These reports described them a moving up the estuaries and that makes sense, the first crabs arrived at the mouth of the Connecticut River around the first of July, but took a month for the crabs to move 3 miles to Essex.  It should be noted that during this time we had immense rainfall and on at least two occasions crabbers reported they were pushed down or out by it.

In the crab locations, report in the west central east, crabs fall into three sizes, about 2”, 4” and legal size plus.  Most of the 5 inches are now 6” so boat catchers in the west have increased 50 to 60 legal crabs are not unusual.  This was expected as the enormous number of sublegals is shedding into legal sizes.  It is going to be interesting to see that 2” crabs grow to about 4” before the cold weather arrives but the strength of next year’s season now rests with that July hatch, the star crab which is about an inch now and should soon leave its protective coves and begin to end up in crab traps and nets by August 30th.

If we have a warm fall, they should be 2 inches or possibly more by hibernation time.  The Megalops set is being determined by these early shedding female blue crabs into sponges, now until September.  A late Megalops set should occur around September 15th to October 1st.  It’s possible in some of the salt ponds that heated sooner, may have sponge crabs now, so any reports of female sponge crabs are very valuable; and as a couple of SCUBA divers have shown (and thank you for those critical under water observations), so yes, if you see blue crabs especially those moving in large groups (called pods) drop me an email.

Reports have dropped off by shore striped bass fishermen and suspect the larger bass are on the shoals or deeper waters, but I welcome any reports of crab movements on top or beneath the surface, while fishing or diving.

For now please continue to send in those observations and any locations of female sponge crabs.  Even if it’s just one sponge crab, every observation is important.

The continued reporting by many new and veteran crabbers is so valuable to our study and I thank each for their contribution this spring and summer; I hope they continue to send in reports to me.

Observations this year will help guide the survey methods for next year. 

Every observation is important you do not need to be a scientist to participate!

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.

All observations are valuable; please email them to me at [email protected].

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 [email protected]



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« Reply #5 on: August 22, 2011, 09:26:28 AM »

The Blue Crab Year -
The Search for Megalops – August 19, 2011- Report #14
You do not need to be a scientist to report!

Reports 1 to 13 are available – email Tim Visel at [email protected]

•   Three to 4 inch crabs reach legal size; run and catch transitions now evident;
•   Heavy rains again cause concern for small crabs;
•   What about the other crabs?
•   Do all crab Megalops look alike?

The run has changed in all sections as these 3 inch to 4 inch crabs have shed into legal sizes.  The western run is now 70% legal size, the central and eastern, about 50% legal size.  It is thought that what happened last year cooler eastern temperatures slowed growth, so the western warmer areas would have a longer “growing season”.  For example last summer the run at the Essex Town Dock August 30, 2010, was 95% legal while crabbers in the Pawcatuck River had a run of 20% legal.  The eastern water temperature was several degrees cooler all summer long.  The smaller spring 1.5 inch to 2 inch crab is now 3 to 4 inches while those June 4 inch crabs are now legal.  As such catches generally have increased, we now have only 2 sizes, legal and up, and 3 to 4.  What we need to see is those new 1 inch crabs, perhaps 1.5 inches by September 1st.  Those small crabs should appear very shortly and in very large numbers (if the Megalops set was large).

At the same time Connecticut, especially the western sections have experienced another huge rainfall event, August 12th to 14th. Some sections received 6 inches or more of tropical like rainfall.  Some central reports indicate large numbers of crabs leaving small areas at low tide by the hundreds.  It could have been low oxygen or fresh water toxicity or a combination of both (see blue crab report #12, August 2).  It’s too early to tell but such heavy rainfalls can kill small crabs or sweep them from estuaries, and unlike March/April, crab predators are numerous, especially large numbers of fluke.  The worst case scenario is that we start to see dead small crabs on the shores of salt ponds and creeks.  Those small crabs are very vulnerable to oxygen deficiencies, and heavy rainfalls.  They might even be caught in those small mesh bait minnow seines in shallow areas. 

I believe the very small crabs are in those shallow marsh ditches (many old ditches from previous mosquito/malaria control program of the last century) and the upper reaches of creeks. Kayakers might be the first to see these very small crabs and have obtained a few reports from kayak observations and they were very valuable, so you don’t need to be crabbing to report, any observations of small blue crabs would be a great help.

If any crabbers notice any dead or washed up small blue crabs (should be about an inch to 1.5 inch across) please send in a report- general location – shallow shore, marsh, creek central, east, west, etc would be appreciated; and of course no need to identify the exact location.

Any female crabs or especially female egg bearing sponge crabs, reports would be helpful.  The past few days’ crabbers have been mentioning the absence of female crabs, everyone except for a couple of reports mention catches as nearly all male.

As I watched blue crabs and its population dynamics this summer, questions have been asked about species -- not that much is known about other crabs or populations other than the paper I referenced a few months ago: Spider Crab Podding Behavior and Mass Molting (DeGoursey and Stewart, 1981).  This often brings up the question of other edible crab species here and one that has come up many times this summer.  In several visits to Niantic Bay, for example, I have talked to and watched several families actively engaged in catching green crabs as food. Green crabs (Carcinus maenas) – green males and red/orange females. From time to time, I have heard this before, but my conversations this summer have been different; it is a fishery although small; it is a food catching activity. 

In my visit to Niantic Bay (River) this summer I was amazed at the size of green crabs – they were huge.  The green crab, a species native to northern Europe arrived about a century ago and devastated the soft clam fishery (steamer clams) in New England.  It is still a serious predator of small clams and oysters and also predates upon bay scallops.  It is a favorite bait (food) of black fish (tautog), and I’ve spent many hours harvesting them for local bait and tackle stores, and also for my fishing.  So it was surprising to see such delight in landing a huge green crab (when I used to toss them back) and throwing away the size desired for blackfish bait; when I asked about it – the response was, “too small, let it get bigger”.  The five gallon pail was half filled with gigantic green crabs.  When I explained I was looking for blue crabs, I was told these (the green crabs) were better!  I wasn’t that surprised, because I had seen similar crabbing off the Point Judith Pond Breakwaters in Rhode Island years ago.

In the Open Sea, by Sir Alistair Hardy (1959), he mentions this green crab fishery in England on page 144: (The green crab is invasive to our waters, an import from Europe a century ago) in the Channel Islands.  The edible crab – the Rock and our Jonah crab is also described by Hardy (pg 145) as a fishery and we have two similar species (Atlantic Rock Crab – Cancer irroratus – reddish brown) and (Jonah Crab – Cancer borealis – red to purple top).  In Maine it is a large fishery (picked crab meat) called Peekytoe.  Rhode Island from time to time sells large rock crabs as an incidental catch to lobstering; also a deep water species called Red crab is a huge crab and very good eating (Chaceon quinquedens). These crabs however do not keep as well as lobsters and need very cold seawater systems. (See Sound School publication #21 on our website: titled Gravity Fed Self Regulating Bio- Suspended Solids Pillow Filter for Crab and Lobster Tanks).  Other native crabs are also edible, when working for the University of Massachusetts, a friend invited me to an evening meal in his home town of New Bedford.  It was a wonderful Portuguese meal, a fisherman’s stew served with whole (but cleaned) lady crabs. Sometimes called the calico crab, they have spotted shells, smaller than blue crabs but with very sharp claws.  These are the same bad attitude crabs that I ran into numerous times while swimming in Madison, so it was of interest to see them cooked and they were delicious.  I found out that such whole crabs were considered a delicacy and some modern pasta sauce dishes include whole blue crabs.

But the lady crab (Ovalipes ocellatus) was especially delicious and tasted more like lobster than crab.  I was very surprised having seen lady crabs along the sandy beaches so many times.  I would suggest however extreme caution picking these crabs up, it’s like they are double jointed and can bite you quickly with very large claws.  I feel they are faster than blue crabs and more dangerous.

Other crabs are also edible, the green crab: males green, females red/orange (Carcinus maenas), the Atlantic Rock crab, (Cancer irraratus) - reddish brown and the Jonah crab, Cancer Borrealis, red to purple top. 

Of the two “ground crabs” Jonah and Rock crabs, it is the Jonah crab that is the larger of the two and is the one harvested in Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.  At this time the Maine crab fishery has grown in importance and now some 2.5 million pounds of crabs are harvested yielding several million dollars. I had a chance to visit Maine last week and had a Graffam Brothers Seafood, Rockport, Maine crab roll and it was excellent.  Rhode Island lands Jonah crab and from time to time, a deepwater red crab. If you ever have a chance to taste red crab, do not turn it down; it is also delicious (Chaceon quinquedens).  The landings of Rock and Jonah crab are thought to be small in Connecticut.  Now for large spider crabs, (Libinia emarginata), yes, they are edible, in fact very good.  After pulling thousands of them from our wooden lobster traps with my brother Raymond (1970s), we decided to try them. They are not the smaller crab found in the shallows close to shore; these 4 to 6 inch diameter crabs were in 50 to 70 feet of water.  We picked out a dozen of the largest crabs; they look like a smaller king or snow crab.  First, forget the legs/claws; the only portion that contains meat is the body section.  Also, don’t think you can boil them like lobsters and blue crabs, their shells are not clean like blue crab or lobsters, but very muddy at times and covered with seaweed.  We tried cleaning them (shells) but that didn’t work, well what did work was cleaning the crabs before cooking so you just boil the cleaned body sections.  The picking was a challenge, the body sections are thick, but large hard shell crabs were packed with meat and when prepared in a crab salad, was very hard to distinguish from blue crabs, and in fact, it was very good.  The marketing of these large “spider crabs” was a failure however, and this experiment was only practiced in years in which blue crabs were scarce and we wanted some fresh crab meat sandwiches.

Note, before crabbing in other states, always be sure to check fishing regulations.  Most states have some regulations, size, season and permits.  For example, it looks like from some of the Internet material the state of Maine issues both a recreational and commercial Jonah crab license -- best to check before crabbing.  Connecticut, for example, does issue commercial blue crab licenses with the same gear provisions for a fee, while CT recreational crabbing remains no fee, free; same season, same sizes, etc.

One interesting section in Sir Hardy’s book, the Open Sea, Fish and Fisheries is a description of the Rock/Jonah crab fishery and one that sounds very similar to a blue crab, almost incredibly so, and one that doesn’t really fit Rock or Jonah crabs as swimming crabs, but he describes their behavior and habitats.  (If you look at these crabs, they don’t look at all like the swimming crabs, and it’s hard to imagine them mass moving but they do). 

“The crabs are actually more inshore animals in summer than in winter.  In autumn, they migrate offshore into deeper water where the females extrude their eggs and attach them to their small abdominal appendages, in the spring they return to shallow water carrying their eggs which hatch in June and July into little Zoea larvae.  In addition to this to and fro migration, some have been shown by tagging experiments to migrate considerable distances along the coast, journeys of 90 miles have been recorded.” (pg. 145)

It’s hard to imagine a Rock or Jonah crab as moving such distances, they look more like a tank than a race car, but they do. And if something that looks like a tank can travel such distances what about a crab that is nicknamed “beautiful swimmer” and blue crabs can really swim and fast.  I can recall last summer crabbing at night and watching them swim by on the outgoing tide and they were moving!  I hardly had time to pick up the crab net and they were gone.

At this time I’m getting more and more reports of large deepwater totally male blue crab populations – moving – in 15 to 25 feet deep water.  The boaters with crab pots are doing quite well and good catches of large male blue crabs in many areas.  Catches are being made in the 15 to 25 foot river channels, some dense concentrations in the west and occasional good catches in the Mystic River.  The shore areas especially shallow water remain slow – it could be just too warm, not certain.  What is interesting is the absence of female crabs; they are rare in recent catch reports.

Do all crab Megalops look alike?

I had a crabber ask that at the Sheffield Town Dock in Old Saybrook and it’s a great question (and I might add, one of a number of good questions this summer).  I don’t know; I have seen many more green crabs with “sponges” so they must have a Megalops set, and lady crabs also; to be honest, I’m not certain.  We might be seeing 3 or 4 different types of Megalops so we will really need that online video key.  We might be able to short cut this effort by looking for habitats that blue crab Megalops prefer, shallow bands of sand that contain living immature soft shell clams, steamers.  There is some evidence that the blue crab Megalops seeks out this habitat, the movement of the clams may leave chemical clues or waste products or siphon “noise” but numerous references mention Mya beds or estuarine shell as ideal habitats.

Most habitat references indicate it’s the shallow areas, the ones with cover, eelgrass perhaps other submerged vegetation that will allow the maturing crab to hide, or burrow.  This zone is also frequented by two very aggressive predators, the Killifish fundulius species and sand shrimp, Crangon septemspinosa.  It is thought that the blue crab Megalops seeks out or survives best in areas with estuarine shell, both clams and oysters to escape these predators.

One word of caution, it is expected that in searching shallow areas for crab Megalops, monitors will discover occasional sets of shellfish, oyster, soft shell clam (steamers) and perhaps quahogs (seed) as well.  Although it is important to note the presence of such clam sets, shallow areas along the coast are usually closed to shell fishing and need a permit to harvest and retain them in the open or certified areas.  Shallow areas even beaches can have high counts of bacteria after heavy rains and shellfish living in such waters do not meet state and federal harvest regulations.  Many crabbing areas have signs notifying the public that shellfishing is not allowed.  This concern has been the subject of some lengthy discussions at our Long Island Sound Habitat Restoration Committee, that the public is now largely unaware of a substantial Connecticut soft shell clam resource (the sets the past few years have been very strong).  Recent visual surveys off the Town of Westbrook have shown clams in many areas.

But at the same time we have seen an increase in blue crabs; we have seen soft shell clams sets increase also, with the ever mentioned habitat association between the blue crab and Mya (steamer clams) and warmer Long Island Sound temperatures; it is a habitat association that is hard to ignore. A century ago here in CT between 1890 and 1920, summers were then particularly hot, blue crabs and steamers did quite well during this period. The soft shell clam sets in Clinton Harbor, lower Hammonasset River in 1900-1902 were some of the heaviest in our fishery history.  The 1898 statewide oyster set was the set of the century and blue crabs became very prevalent along our shores.  Rhode Island officials noted this also in Narragansett Bay a century ago and commissioned a special study to investigate the sudden increase in soft shells and blue crabs in 1905.  The RI report printed in 1906 details the increase of soft shell clam sets, a surge in blue crabs but also dramatic drops in bay scallops and lobsters. The thirty-sixth annual report of the Rhode Island Commissioners of Inland Fisheries, January session, 1906 E L Freeman & Sons State Printers (336 pages) contains this section- The Continued Examination of the Physical and Biological Conditions of the Bay [Narragansett] begun in 1898, page 106-107.

“On Cornelius Island, in Wickford harbor, the (soft) clams set extremely thick in 1904.  In the protected area, the clams were so thick at the time of setting, that there was not room for the growth of all of them, and so, as they increased in size, many were forced out upon the surface, so that in a short while, the ground was thick with (dead empty) shells --- Another case in point was observed at Greene’s’ Island on the east shore of this island is a long flat which in 1901 was set so thickly with clams that 7,910 were counted in a single shovelful.”

Clam / oysters (all shellfish) collected as part of the Blue Crab Study should be noted but not retained, and returned as soon as possible to the location sampled.

For now please continue to send in those observations and any locations of female sponge crabs and smaller crabs.  Even if it’s just one sponge crab, every observation is important.

Observations this year will help guide the survey methods for next year. 

Every observation is important you do not need to be a scientist to participate!

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.

All observations are valuable; please email them to me at [email protected].

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 [email protected]

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« Reply #6 on: August 25, 2011, 11:31:58 AM »

The Blue Crab Year -
The Search for Megalops – August 25, 2011-
Report #15 – Program Report #4
You do not need to be a scientist to report!

Reports 1 to 14 are available – email Tim Visel at [email protected]

•   Back to School and “Thank you” for all the conversations and email reports
•   Possible Blue Crab Megalops Survey Sites Proposed
•   High School Research Projects – Shellfish Commissions, Research Papers, PowerPoint’s™, ISSP’s and graphs/charts.
•   Winter workshops for Megalops Volunteers
•   S.R.E. Supervised Research Experiences/Capstone Projects
•   Study Design for the 2012 Crab year

Back to School – Thank you for your help!

This report focuses upon the concept and research goals of determining Blue crab reproductive success in Connecticut waters.  As such, most of the body of the report concerns the outline for high school students and citizen volunteers’ participation with shellfish commissions, conservation commissions or coastal land trusts.  The project has a community outreach/reporting component and is important to research and Capstone work products described later in the report.  With that said, it contains no current blue crab observations, but we still need to hear about any female crabs with exposed egg masses or “sponges” and the appearance of small 1 inch sized Blue Crabs.  Anyone interested in observations of our Blue Crab year to date, please review reports 1-14.  I want to thank all reporters / crabbers for their interest and support this summer.  Your reports will help with the study design for next year.

The Search for Megalops is now entering a new phase, which will be also reported out- the actual collection and discussion of field samples.  I anticipate at least two reports in September, hopefully on egg bearing female crabs and a new crop of Blue crab juveniles.  So those reports and observations would be greatly appreciated. 

Again many thanks for all the great observations and dockside conversations this summer.  Looking forward to meeting with you hopefully at the winter workshops.  Until then, great crabbing!

Tim Visel

The Ecologists and the Future

“Ecology is converting natural history into science, but in saying this, I do not mean to say that ecology is superior to natural history which is, of course, basic to it all.  While we do well to acclaim the advance of exactitude, let us not under-rate the contributions of the naturalists who, in the spirit of explorers, have revealed for us the marvelous multiplicity of animal life and, by their descriptions, have given us the facts of their structures and habits.  Discoveries by observation may be just as fundamental as those made by the experimental method.”

(Comments by Sir Alister Hardy – Fish & Fisheries, The Open Sea, Part II, 14 Saint James Place, London. Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy – University of Oxford. 1959, pg. 294-295.)

At this point a possible list of Megalops Survey Sites has been proposed and follows.  This preliminary list may change.  If someone would like to suggest a site, please do so.  These are the list of sites as of August 17, 2011:

Greenwich – Anderson Road – upper Indian Harbor salt pond
Darien – Gorhams Pond (no site at present)
Stamford – Mill River, Rippowam (no site at present)
Fairfield – Ash Creek* (see note below) sand spit
Milford – Gulf Pond – Huntington Avenue Bridge
Bridgeport – Arthur Street shore
New Haven – Howard Avenue beach / Long Wharf flats
Guilford – Rt. 146 Bridge – Lost Lake
Guilford – Grass Island DEP Boat Launch Ramp
Madison – Tom’s Creek or Fence Creek (any established site)
Clinton – Lower Hammonasset River – Cedar Island Marina “mini park” (beach)
Westbrook –Kirtland Landing, Old Clinton Road / Menunketeseck River
Old Saybrook – North Cove Boat Ramp, North Cove Road
Old Saybrook - Rt. 1 Oyster River Bridge by Maynard’s Farm Market
Niantic (East Lyme)- Smith Cove (no site at present)
Waterford – Alewife Cove – Waterford Shore – Town Park
Waterford – Jordan Cove (no site at present)
Groton – Bakers Cove (DEP Boat launch ramp) end of Bayberry Lane
Stonington – Mystic River – (no site at present)
Stonington – Quanaduck Cove – (no site at present)

*Originally it was Perry Mill Pond, most likely the area that contains some of the densest Megalops sets but was advised by the Fairfield Conservation Commission that the area is undergoing an environmental cleanup of lead and a special advisory for harvesting blue crabs in the area has been issued.

The foundation for the Search for Megalops commenced in 2005 as a Sound School Grant Proposal to the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation.  The original concept was to involve high school students in coastal monitoring of living marine resources.  Shellfish spot sets, fish counts (census), shellfish surveys of inshore fisheries and terrapin studies were to complement habitat research.  The Grant provided the Sound School with the opportunity to be exposed to monitoring with University and Agency researchers with Project Limulus, the study of the horseshoe crab, a NMFS-NOAA tagging and monitoring black sea bass and tautog among others.  But in many respects the procedures and operation standards for scientific validation were hundreds of pages long, much too in-depth for high school curricular units.  A meeting in August 2008 with Mark Tedesco, of the EPA who heads the Long Island Sound Study focused on what types of inshore monitoring activities were feasible and practical and how to design curricular units that over time could be incorporated into high school research projects.  A key suggestion was to review what projects best fit the Sound School educational model.  Mr. Tedesco felt that Project Search, the DEP program already in existence that has high school students involved in fresh water monitoring perhaps serve as a model.  It is a good one to use as an example (see report # 12) that meeting led to a program called Project Finfish/Shellfish for Citizen monitors for a possible statewide fish census Project Finfish and a Nov 18, 2009 presentation to the Long Island Sound Habitat Restoration Initiative Project Shellfish.  In the future it is hoped that a combined Project Finfish/Shellfish can be expanded to other species beyond Blue Crabs (Megalops) and included habitat studies such as manmade habitats including artificial reefs.  Pilot studies for terrapins and fyke net fish counts (previously called a fish census) are nearly complete with pilot outlines for Coastal Conservation Commissions and Land Trusts.  Pilot outlines and some program reports for these projects should be available this fall.  The equipment and materials needed for the Megalops study are minimal and are detailed later in the report.

High School Research Projects – Shellfish Commissions, Research Papers, PowerPoint’s™, ISSP Proposal

At some point this year or next, it would be great if several schools could present projects or summary results at a conference, so to also incorporate a public speaking and presentation component(posters, graphs/charts, PowerPoint™ and oral reports)of research findings.  There is so much we need to know about our shallow inshore habitats; almost any area would be of interest.

Shellfish Commissions and volunteers (crabbers) may also want to participate in the collection and send samples to other institutions.  That is great (might pick up some helpful shellfish information) and please contact me at [email protected]  for further information and collection permit procedures. 

I was also surprised this summer by the number of people who have microscopes at home. At this point, the Bridgeport Aquaculture School and the Sound School has the microscopes to review examples.  The study outline will also be sent to all Connecticut Aquaculture Science and Technology Centers as perhaps a project to satisfy supervised agriculture experiences or SAE.  The overall goal is to involve young people in real world application based learning experiences.  Intrinsic to this experience is problem solving, critical thinking, task analysis, compare/contrast discussions and team work skills.  Many school systems may recognize the above as 21st Century Skills, long a component in Agriculture Education here in Connecticut. 

Cooperating School Districts and Proposed Monitoring

As part of the Sound School Inter-district Cooperative Grant Outreach Program, The Search for Megalops outline is going to be sent to every coastal high school.  This project could become a social issues study as well as including climate change, economics and environmental policy components.  The Yale Fellows Program has an outstanding existing compare/contrast curricular unit on Connecticut’s lobster die off from 1996. It is called Lobster Die-off! – An Event Based Science Unit.

It can be found at ( It is an excellent review of the dramatic decline of Connecticut Lobsters, as the Search for Megalops details the increase in Blue Crab populations during the same period.  History classes may also find this project of interest as supplemental papers – The Great Heat – Amazing Seafood Gifts of Long Island Sound explains similar lobster declines and Blue Crab increases in Connecticut during the period 1890-1920.  It also describes the rise of Theodore Roosevelt during the Great Heat Wave of 1896.  They are available from Sue Weber at [email protected]

High School Science classes most likely already have the bioscopes and microscopes needed to examine samples, and fits very nicely with the scientific method.  Field survey operations and protocols – today called Quality Assurance Projection Plans QAPP and standard operating procedures or SOP can be incorporated into future curricular units.  QAPP and SOP documents are very useful in standardizing data among many survey sites, but at this stage, this effort is just a presence and absence study.  Can we find Megalops and in what densities?  The study can be further divided into proposal, field collection, sample keys, recording and reporting segments.  The actual field collection time should be minimal in four cases: Old Saybrook High School, Greenwich High School, and the New Haven and the Bridgeport Aquaculture Centers. The proposed collection points are only a short walk from the high schools.  It should take only a few minutes to collect a sample.

Winter Workshops for Megalops Volunteers

This report is being sent to all Municipal Shellfish Commissions who may know of potential volunteers or interested schools.  The Search for Megalops project could be suitable for both citizen monitors and high school juniors/seniors looking for a senior project/portfolio graduation project (called the Capstone Project by the State Department of Education).  The Study Design should allow high school students the fall to conduct research, and some field visits.  Blue crabs should still be in the shallows well into September for photographs/etc.  Most high schools have some scientific or pathology grade microscopes to examine samples. The Sound School makes extensive use of Marine Animals of Southern New England and New York, [Identification keys to common nearshore and shallow water macrofauna] by Howard M. Weiss, Ph.D. During the winter, the Sound School will host a series of monitoring workshops and plans to invite biologists who have performed this type of shallow, estuarine communities’ surveys to share insights and survey information.  The Winter Workshop schedule will be sent out in advance.  If you would like to obtain information about this workshop schedule, please email Sue Weber at [email protected]  and ask to be put on the Adult / Outreach Education email directory.  It is hoped that for every site we can identify a class, shellfish commission or volunteer who can collect a couple of samples.
Supervised Research Projects / State Graduation Capstone Projects, ISSP’s

For over a century high school students attending Agriculture Science and Technology Centers (formerly known as Vocational Agriculture Centers) have had a statutory obligation for having a planned supervised agriculture work experience program. (SAE) For Agriculture Education students, the senior year contained a special topics/portfolio project that is designed with consultation with the scope & sequence teacher.  The addition of directed laboratories in the 1990s research projects can satisfy both the (SAE) and now the supervised Capstone graduation project.  The Capstone Project description is as follows and also found on the State Department website:

“The Capstone Experience is a culminating activity that provides a way for students to demonstrate the knowledge and skills they acquired during their secondary school years of education.  It engages students in a project/experience that focuses on an interest, career path or academic pursuit that synthesizes classroom study and real world perspective.  High school students are asked to demonstrate their ability to apply key knowledge and skills by planning, completing and presenting a culminating project linked to one or more are of personal interest and the individual’s Student Success Plan.

The Capstone experience may include an in-depth project, reflective portfolio, community service and/or internship.  As part of the experience, the student will demonstrate research, communication and technology skills including additional relevant 21st century skills.

Work on the Capstone Project may begin as early as 9th grade.  Successful completion of a Capstone Project will earn the student one credit toward high school graduation.”

For more information about the Capstone Project, please contact:

Ann Gaulin, Consultant         
CT State Department of Education
[email protected]
Scott Shuler, Consultant
CT State Department of Education
(860) 713-6746
[email protected]

For more information about the Capstone Projects in CT, please go to:

For the Sound School and its focus upon Aquaculture Science and Marine Technology we have for many years required an SOE (Supervised Occupational Experience) – both a plan and program documents to ascertain how that plan is fulfilled.  Our general requirement is as follows:

Students must also complete an S.O.E. plan each and every year; their plan must support their employment or work experiences.  The S.O.E. plan/form is the student’s responsibility and must be signed off by the student, parent/guardian, aquaculture / agriculture staff advisor and / or employer.  Hours or credits for any S.O.E experience will not be awarded until the required paperwork has been received.  Students should also get into the habit of also keeping track of their own S.O.E. hours in a notebook indicating dates and hours that they have worked, went on trips or any activities they participated in.  This is helpful for both student and staff.

ISSP Research Proposals – Remaining Questions

Blue crabs do face uncertain winter carrying over, storms and predation by fish, especially starfish and could be all significant to population fluctuations.  Spring floods and heavy rains could cause fresh water poisoning – toxicity. Serious questions remain if escaping adults make it past the very cold winters here at all, and combine again in the summer fishery.  We really don’t know what our winter carrying capacity is or what habitat conditions favor the blue crab.  It has been suggested that smaller stages prefer tidal creeks especially clam and oyster habitats.

High school students, with approved ISSP projects can survey small sections of shore bottoms (creeks) this spring and examine it under a microscope may help answer some of these resource questions.  A review of the existing literature indicates that the critical Megalops stage is able to slow or even stop its development in the face of cooling temperatures.  In March or April, blue crab larval stages should become active and begin to feed.  Sampling under shells or soft shell clam beds should yield Megalops during this period from a settlement in September/October. 

A second research question is that our crabs are Megalops that drifted out of the Chesapeake Bay got caught in the Gulf Stream and summer prevailing winds blew surface Megalops into Long Island Sound.  Under this theory next year’s crabs are already here waiting to emerge this spring and start growing.

The severity of the winter, spring rains and storms all should be considered but at some point Blue crab larval forms need to exist.  Where and at what densities remain large questions in seeking answers as to where our blue crabs come from.  The present large populations remain largely unexplainable from existing Blue crab research studies here in Connecticut.

Perhaps some high school science students can help answer these questions as they have with the very successful DEP Program Project Search.

We look to the possibility of some for credit ISSP proposals from any interested Sound School students.

Independent Study and
Seminar Program
New Haven Public Schools

The contact person for the Sound School is Barbara Mente; other schools could also have ISSP programs.  A quick call to your high school guidance director should be able to assist students from other school systems.

The Study Design 
Proposed for October 1, 2011

The initial start of the project will be the selection of various coastal sites in which to investigate the presence or absence of blue crab Megalops.  The sites will represent areas known to contain adult or small crabs.  The start of the project is to locate areas and determine if a habitat pattern/preference can be established.  It is just a presence/absence study to find Megalops; a more precise survey sampling program is a future expansion dependent upon initial findings. 

Thus the first step is to locate areas that might contain blue crab Megalops.  The second step is to have students and volunteers survey some areas.  A few years ago I attended the Project SEARCH volunteer winter training workshops held at Hammonasset State Park with Russ Miller in the Meigs Point Nature Center.  I was very impressed with the volunteer training workshops and this winter similar workshops will be held at the Sound School.

Where to Look

Much of the available life cycle habitat studies have been done for the Chesapeake Bay region and southern areas.  From published articles evidence indicates that Megalops can find shelter in a wide range of habitats, the most important being estuarine bottoms that contain shell or live shellfish especially the soft shell clam (steamer) Mya between low tide depth of 1 to 2 feet..

A second habitat/environment type is areas with good tidal circulation and sufficient oxygen (shallow 1 foot or less, not stagnant) and perhaps edges of eelgrass also.  It is the edge of vegetation or the transition from non-structure smooth areas to habitats that have relief such as shell may perhaps be the best areas to look.  It is also suspected that the same areas will contain worms, small shrimp species and sets of shellfish.  Reports in some southern research papers speculate that the best Megalops areas often contain small and newly set soft set (steamer) clams (Mya).  It is also thought that acidic bottoms – those with low pH and low oxygen are hostile to the Megalops stage.  This habitat preference is one of the studying/monitoring objectives.

Proposed Sampling Methods

The type of gear proposed is a modified “D sampling net” with a very fine mesh net.  The D net looks like a regular fish landing net with a flattened edge.  It looks like someone pushed on it making the bottom edge flat, making it look like a letter D with a handle opposite the flat edge.  The mesh is very fine because to the naked eye, a blue crab Megalops are very small, about the size of a flake of ground pepper.
In the Project SEARCH study, the freshwater stream currents direct riffle dwelling organisms into the collection net (device).  To loosen these fresh water organisms a series of foot pounding (called kick stops) are employed to dislodge organisms into the current flow and then into the net.  In the marine environment we don’t have that flow all the time to concentrate specimens so a different sampling procedure might work.  A modified clam harvesting device (clam pounder) a descendant of the century old flounder pounder used in Niantic Bay in the 1880s may assist in collection.  Rather than kicking the bottom a plumber’s helper is attached to D net handle and plunged three times.  The small depression is then scooped with the D net.  The rubber plumber’s helper can be purchased at hardware stores and attached with a metal screw operated pipe clamp.  This device looks a little funny at first- a wood handle with a sampling net at one end and the plumber’s helper on the other.  But, it is effective at suspending sub tidal organisms when employed as a University of Massachusetts Cooperative Extension agent in the 1980s I found it to be quite successful.

Sampling Protocols / Operations

Areas would be surveyed every two months, two samples about 1 meter apart.  All samples should be 12 inches deep at low tide (this may change after the first fall surveys).  Because these organisms are small, soft bodied, they are fragile and could break down before they can be keyed out.  To help preserve the samples, the salt water will be stabilized and frozen.
To collect the sample, the organisms are so small they will cling to the collecting net, so a bulb type turkey baster will draw up a portion of a reduced in the net sample and deliver it into a collection jar. Don’t be surprised if you’re soon surrounded by silversides and killifish, bottom disturbances to these species are like ringing the dinner bell.  But ample time should be available before visitors arrive in large numbers.
At this point, the sample will be stabilized most likely with an over the counter calcium tablet to buffer the sea water.  The fragile Megalops body tissue is very soft and an acid water sample could possibly dissolve it.  Samples can then be frozen and stored until keying out?  Not certain, is this practicable?

Sound School Site – Control / Protocols Development

The Search for Megalops will involve several Sound School teachers; we plan to establish a sampling station at the Sound School as a Capstone Project.  Taking a sample should only take a few minutes.  A photo/narrative outline will be available December 1 and key protocols by November 15.  A genetic study will be started with Chesapeake Bay researchers to see if the genetic differences or similarities can be established and interest in hatching/spawning some sponge crabs as part of an Aquaculture Biology class.  A senior class aquaculture life teacher has planned to offer his senior students to look a blue crab habitat in terms of climate change.
We will also work with interested Guilford, Madison and Old Saybrook marine science classes with survey sites and sampling techniques; the Bridgeport Aquaculture School and the new Groton Marine Science Magnet School has expressed interest also.  All of our information will be online and available by interested public, research or volunteers. 
The project will commence in early September and sampling should start October 1st.  A public workshop forum is now being discussed in which student projects/papers and PowerPoint’s™ will be presented to staff, researchers and members of the environmental community that would be scheduled sometime in the spring.



The sampling net we are considering is the BioQuip™ heavy duty aquatic net (no trade or product endorsement implied).  They are the “D” shaped nets that allow greater bottom sampling area/contact.  BioQuip™ makes a net from heavy cotton and polyester canvas, stitched with non rotting screen.  They feature a white mesh (Nytex) screen placed about 8 inches below the canvas rim.  Since the Megalops are very small, a bag with 150 micron screen is thought to be the best 7412-DN model.

Since the organisms are very small drying the net will have organisms clinging to the canvas and screen.  It might be easier to do a water to water transfer by partially drying a corner of the net, but not completely.  A suction device (it looks like an old fashioned turkey baster could be an option) could draw up a liquid sample and direct it into a sample jar or bag.  Sea water is alkaline about 8.1 to 8.4 but samples after a heavy rain (fresh water tends to float over salt water) might be acidic so the addition of an over the counter calcium table could stabilize the sample until it is frozen.  This is just one possible stabilization method at this point.

The Pounder-
This device dates back to the cold period or climate shortly after the Civil War when Connecticut was in a very cold decade in the 1870s.  The coves would freeze up in eastern Connecticut including Niantic Bay.  Winter flounder spear fishermen would cut holes in the ice in two basic areas: soft sediment or eelgrass for overwintering eels and clam beds for winter flounder.  A large pole and wood rack or basket at the end would be pummeled into the bottom through the ice, dislodging worms, clams (breaking some no doubt) but attracting winter flounder (chumming).   Some retired bay scallopers told me about their fathers using such a device- a precursor to the modern chum pot.  After a few minutes, the flounder spear would be sent down the hole (you can still see these spear’s today for sale along the shore in antique stores).  The basket soon found its way to a simple flat metal plate disk and the blacksmith shop.  It too was fitted to a long pole and looked like a long plumbers helper – plunger.  In the 1960s, this device was modified to catch sub tidal soft shells “steamer” clams and plunging for clams was frequent on Cape Cod and Rhode Island in the 1980s.

According to Phil Schwind, in a brief Chatham meeting 1982, populations of soft shells retreated to subtidal areas on the Cape in the 1950s and 1960s.  It was thought that severe freezes then reduced the exposed tidal soft shell populations beginning in 1940s, the washing of clams in the subtidal areas began and the pounder became the plunger.  It soon followed by trial and error that salt ponds contained significant soft shell clam populations. [This is not unlike some of the historical accounts from the Great Island soft shell clam flats off Old Lyme (1930s) of subtidal harvest with a special offset shovel and an old Colonial garden screen, back then called a “riddle”.  CT soft shell production would soar during the Great Heat (1890-1920) but drop considerably in the colder period of 1960s.] In a 1970 booklet titled the Clam Shack Clammer (May 1, 1970 Printer Charles Thompson) Phil Schwind lists the plunger on page 35 as shellfish harvest equipment.  He is generally credited with keeping this old method of subtidal soft shell clam harvest current from the past century.

The modern day plumber’s helper can still be purchased at most hardware stores and together with a screw fitted metal pipe clamp, it can be reinstalled at the end of the D net.  So, the “pounder” and collection net is one device (as with catching clams years ago).  You don’t’ need to plunge more than two or three times creating a slight depression (not a hole) – the organisms should settle in the depression and then collected with the D net end.

Cost equipment list –
o   One 7412 DNM Aquatic net 12” D shape 150 micro mesh    
               Nylon Bag ($68.20) BioQuip™
              (No product or trade endorsement implied).   $68.20
o   One metal screw fitted pipe clam (hardware store)              $1.49
o   One flexible plumber’s helper plunger (hardware store)                  (the existing wood handle is not used)      $7.95
o   One bottle of calcium supplement (drug store)      $4.95
               (Sample stabilization)
o   Collection bottles/bags (various) (for freezing until collection)         $10.00-$15.00
o   The total cost (excluding microscopes and bioscopes to examine samples) is about $100.00.
o   It is suggested that monitors wear “knee high” boots.
o   You will need a microscope to examine samples. 

If you are interested in becoming a Megalops monitor, please email me at the Sound School ([email protected]).  Although several educators have expressed looking for Megalops now and can do so. (I’m surprised at how many people already have microscopes at home.) I suggest workshops for interested monitors this winter. That way in the spring we may be able to assess surveyed Megalops. There is also a possibility that all Megalops monitors will need to be listed on a Scientific Collector Permit.

For now please continue to send in those observations and any locations of female sponge crabs.  Even if it’s just one sponge crab, every observation is important.  I’m especially interested in reports of very small blue crabs which should appear the end of August.

The continued reporting by many new and veteran crabbers is so valuable to our study and I thank each for their contribution this spring and summer; I hope they continue to send in reports to me.

Observations this year will help guide the survey methods for next year.  Every observation is important you do not need to be a scientist to participate!

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.

All observations are valuable; please email them to me at [email protected].

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 to: [email protected]



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