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Author Topic: Habitat History & The Blue Crabs EC #14-A  (Read 7580 times)
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« on: December 22, 2016, 01:45:37 PM »

The Importance of Long-Term Case Studies EC #14-A
Environment and Conservation – The Blue Crab Forum™
A Balanced Environmental Fisheries Habitat History is Important
Coastal Tidal and Subtidal Peat Linked to Habitat Failures
A Capstone Proposal for FFA – Non-Experimental SAE

Tim Visel
The Sound School Regional Vocational Aquaculture Center
60 South Water Street, New Haven, CT 
December 2016


{The views expressed here do not reflect the Citizens Advisory Committee or Habitat Working Group of the EPA Long Island Sound Study.  On February 16, 2016 I have asked resource management agencies to recognize Sapropel as a distinct subtidal habitat type.  This is the viewpoint of Tim Visel}.  This report is in two parts – 14-A and 14-B - to be released January 2017.

A Note from Tim Visel 

I do appreciate the comments and interest in Environment/Conservation post #13, July 2016.  It has become one of the most viewed Sapropel, Nitrogen/Bacteria series in the time it’s been on The Blue Crab Forum™.  Since that posting several questions have come in about Native American shell middens as a way to examine hot and cold periods in our climate history.  Several shell middens are being reviewed again not just for the species present but do they reflect changes in species distribution including blue crabs over time.  Do such deposits have potential “banding” or layers perhaps signifying transitioning shellfish populations and habitat changes?  From initial reports some appear to show a relationship between oysters to hard shell clams and bay scallops and the blue crab Classen 1986 et al Torben 2015.  Native Americans, I am certain, developed a taste or preference for some species but almost certain they did not expend important calories searching for the “right” seafood.  What was available or abundant most likely ended up first on the fire. 

In a few centuries we have also been able to record the rise and fall of some species and beginning to determine the impact of temperature upon shellfish spat falls and in New England perhaps determine the relationship between lobsters and blue crabs.  These archeological studies give us the longest “case study” since the melting of the glacial extension occurred about 10,000 years ago;  I mentioned the significance of these studies in the Megalops series #6, Northeast Crabbing Resources posted August 15, 2015 in The Blue Crab Forum™ with a review of Harold Casner’s comment about shell middens in Maine’s Damariscotta River
 (see EC #11), The Blue Crab Forum posted on March 10, 2016 for a review of the layers of humus (now thought to be Sapropel) between bivalve shell layers.  Also, see IMEP newsletter # 3 posted on December, 2013 titled: “Did Native Americans leave us a Habitat History Lesson for Climate Change?”

I was saddened to learn of two blue crabbers who died in July and October, reportedly from a Vibrio infection.  Vibrio infections have hit the blue crabbing community very hard as crabbers work around and in Sapropel deposits.  This blue/black jelly like muck is the beginning of marine peat when oxygen is available.  Over time these deposits can become our salt marshes.  Recent research had identified dozens of bacteria strains from deep Sapropel deposits.  In heat these organic layers become habitats for bacteria that do not need oxygen including vibrio.  Vibrio “bleeds” into the water column from these organic deposits, now termed three layers or conditions, for bacteria reduction.  A scratch or cut can allow infection and Sapropel #2, the “Sapric” layer being the layer looked at most recently.  Sapropel has three levels or layers described by bacterial growths.

Sapropel (1) Humus or Fribric – layer with oxygen/nitrate – surface nitrosomonas or nitrobacters.
Sapropel (2) The Sapric layer with high sulfate – sulfur reducing bacteria – Vibrio
Sapropel (3) The Formic layer, the bacterial methanogens, which can live without oxygen or sulfate.  (Also called the methanoic acid layer).  It is the deeper layers of Sapropel that cause sulfuric acid washes so destruction to metal and blue crab traps.

The pH of these organic deposits can also change with depth, the surface neutral (some access to seawater alkaline ions) to acidic – organic acids, in the absence of oxygen and the generation of ammonia (the terrestrial “smelly compost”) basic from ammonia to acidic in the Formic layers.  The Formic layer contains formic acid sometimes called methanoic acid from the methanogens - those bacteria that do not need oxygen or oxygen containing compounds.

Vibrio bacteria impacts farmers both terrestrial and marine as well and was a great concern in milk and oysters at the turn of the century.  (See, Pure Oysters and Clean Milk for cities EC# 6 July 23, 2015 posted on The Blue Crab Forum™ Environmental and Conservation thread.  These concerns involved Vibrio cholerae (cholera). 

A few weeks ago, I learned of a group of mostly USDA United States Department of Agriculture researchers looking into food security and Vibrio bacteria.  They were interested in learning more about impacts to blue crabbers. 

Just a few days ago I learned of a Vibrio monitoring effort conducted by the State of North Carolina which could have a huge impact to benthic warm water monitoring (Rachel Noble lab.

The Sound School issued the first caution about a growing Vibrio/Sapropel concern in 2014 – EC #3 posted on October 2, 2014, and a second general caution for anyone coming in contact with Sapropel deposits on February 15, 2016.  The Blue Crab Forum™ posted on October 2, 2014 and Northeast Crabbing resources titled, Important Notice for Blue Crabbers – Estuarine Researchers. 

Blue crabbers (or any fishers) should be aware of these dangerous Vibrio strains and potential infections.  A more detailed report on Sapropel and Vibrio bacteria is anticipated for the EC#15 – estimated for January 2017.

Tim Visel

The Connecticut Career and Technical Education System have issued Agriculture/Aquaculture Performance Standards and Competencies.  These performance standards are from the 2015 edition issued from the Connecticut State Dept. of Education Academic Office.  The Environment and Conservation post #14-A (The Blue Crab Forum™ the following standards are referenced.

AE #6 Identify environmental factors – temperature, salinity, ammonia, nitrate, nitrite, dissolved oxygen and pH.
AE #9 Define non infectious diseases, including those from environmental conditions.
A-17 Describe the function of Regulatory Agencies as related to Aquaculture
NRE #4 Identify ecosystems structure in terms of food web, biodiversity and carrying capacity.
NRE #9 Describe process of ecological habitat succession.
NRE #14 Identify water quality indicators pH, temperature nitrates, nitrites ammonia, dissolved oxygen and turbidity.

Capstone questions –

1)   The chemistry of marine soils and climate change has been absent from many estuarine studies – how does climate change impact terrestrial soil as compared to marine soils?

2)   Climate chemistry or overfishing?  One of the biases in fishery management science is the emphasis of over fishing and absence of climate changes.  (The bias is of course is the absence of under fishing as a reason for sudden resource abundance) does overfishing have a chemical or chemistry habitat connection?

3)   Will coastal salt marshes remain a friend or turn foe as a warming planet changes the chemistry of shallow waters.  Peat researchers a half century ago warned farmers about “sulfide buildups” and acid conditions that would leach toxic metal discharges.  Salt marshes are so important to blue crab populations and they have a “chemistry signature” for climate change.  The chemistry may influence blue crab population dynamics such as the sulfide saltmarsh “browning” of today.  What evidence exists for this sulfide chemistry habitat signature in recent salt marsh die backs and how does sulfide chemistry of marsh peat impact blue crab habitats?

Students interested in this research area as a Capstone Project please see Tim Visel in the Aquaculture Office.

Environment and Conservation – The Blue Crab Forum™ - Bacteria Nitrogen Series

I want to thank the Blue Crab Forum™ for allowing me to post in a new thread – Environment and Conservation and also Connecticut Fish Talk for reposting these reports. This is my fourteenth report about bacteria and nitrogen cycles.  Coastal habitats once praised for valuable habitat services are impacted by bacteria and at times become nature’s killing fields, eliminating critical nursery and spawning grounds for many inshore fish and shellfish species. Coastal fishers often observe these events, mats of white bottom bacteria, chocolate or purple waters, brown tides, (HABs) blue crab jubilees or just fish kills. Beyond these public events bacteria and nitrogen change the habitat qualities that we recognize today as “good” into something that is “bad” for inshore fish and shellfishing.  Out of sight and rarely discussed, these conflicting bacteria strains have important implications for estuarine health and seafood production worldwide. 

   #14 Long Term Case Studies and The Blue Crab (Part A) December 2016      
   #13 Blue Crabs, Salt Marshes and Habitat Succession July 2016

   #12 Blue Crabs and Marine Bacteria June 2016

   #11 Eelgrass, Blue Crabs, lobsters and Vibrio Bacteria - March 2016

   #10 Oxygen and Sulfur Reducing Bacteria Questions – Dec 17th 2015

   #9 Nitrogen and Eelgrass Habitat Questions 11/18/2015

   #8 Natural Nitrogen Bacteria Filter Systems 10/20/2015

   #7 Salt Marshes a Climate Bacterial Battlefield 9/10/2015

   #6 Bacteria Disease and Warm Water Concerns 7/23/2015

   #5 Nitrogen, Inshore Habitats and Climate Change 1/12/2015

        #4 Black Mayonnaise Impacts to Blue Crabs and Oysters 1972 to Present 10/16/2014

        #3 A Caution Regarding Black Mayonnaise Habitats 10/2/2014

        #2 Black Mayonnaise, Leaves and Blue Crab Habitats 9/30/2014

        #1 What About Sapropel and the Conowingo Dam? 9/29/14

Fishers should follow this bacterial conflict as more and more information comes in regarding habitat quality and important recreational fisheries such as striped bass, winter flounder and blue crabs or lobster habitats are subject to bacterial impacts. It is also important that shallow water fishers be aware that sulfur bacteria contain a series of antibiotic resistant strains first identified in “Contaminate Effects On Biota of the New York Blight," by Joel. O’Connor, NOAA (1976).  Soft organics with bacteria do pose risks to fishers and bathers – coastal bacteria benthic monitoring programs are needed. – My View.

Introduction

To look at estuarine study post 1972 one needs to reflect upon two similar but distinct regulatory viewpoints, those of “natural” and “conservation.”  The natural viewpoint frequently mentions, such concerns for example as invasive (nonnative species and habitat modification as not natural, species changes, fishing (over fishing) dredging, port operations, and pollution as anthropogenic or human caused actions.  The concept of natural is just that; natural.  Conservation viewpoints came into being at the turn of nineteenth century as westward expansion slowed and natural resource utilization had defining limits.  Imbedded in conservation policy was that tacit knowledge that some natural resource use was of course necessary and that agriculture production was the basis of our M-1 money supply, remove agriculture (habitat modification) from the landscape and our civilization would collapse. 

It was Dr. Andrews Holmsen my resource economics professor at the University of Rhode Island who in one of my resource economics classes in the vocational two year associate degree program in the 1970s impressed upon us the importance of farm dollars – resources dollars (for us it was fish dollars being in a commercial fisheries and marine technology program) to the overall economy.  These farm and fish dollars had economic strength as they multiplied into the economy – for every fish dollar that came ashore generated over 3 additional dollars on land.  This is commonly referred to as an economic multiplier.  I can still recall Dr. Holmsen (I went on to work for him part time in a work study program two years later) telling us the economic power of these farm and fish dollars in many of his resource economics classes.  It was these new natural resource dollars that was the backbone of a nation’s capital wealth.

Natural Resources and Environmental Protection

Agriculture policies today acknowledge that habitat modification, habitat mitigation and habitat creation all have a role in our food supply.  In a purely natural world civilizations as we know them today could not exist.  In a conservation world natural resource use is managed and “conserved” eliminating waste yet, natural resources are both “renewable” and “beneficial.”  Managing natural resources (forestry, soils, water, minerals) for economic, recreational, and commercial purposes each had historically federal agencies that also promoted conservation and “wise use” of natural resources.  An example of this was the Soil Conservation Service (now NRCS) of USDA.  Sustainable soil use and plant management to prevent erosion (waste) was a key agency policy since the Dust Bowl, a dry climate period for south/western agriculture.
 
Careful renewable use of natural resources was the premier conservation goal until 1972 with the newer regulatory goal of protection that changed how natural and conservation policies inter mixed.  Protection for example can at times be a response to control pollution, (the foundation of this important public policy) but quickly transcended into conservation and natural policies as well.  Environmental protection regulations purpose to do that – to protect natural or existing natural resources by regulation from us (people).  Where natural use was once a prescriptive right, the opposite was now often in place, it was prescriptive now not to use it.  (Until 1972 most development activities under existing state law the State of Connecticut had to argue, the natural habitat value against development – post 1972 this was transferred to the applicant – that the proposed development would not harm the natural environment (habitat).  This policy was described perfectly in a letter written to Paul Galtsoff of US Fish and Wildlife Service in April 1958 from Arroll L. Lamson Chief Came Division State of CT Board of Fisheries and Game with this section. 

Dear Dr. Galtsoff – Woods Hole Mass – April 17, 1958

Dr. Galtsoff  “Here in Connecticut we are fighting the seemly losing battle in saving our tidal marshes.  One of the features of the evaluation of these marshes is that which is contributed through nutrients and minute animal forms which go into the production of seed oysters and soft clams.  I have recently conferred with Dr. Victor L. Loosanoff of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Marine Laboratory, Milford Connecticut, and he suggested that if possible, it would be well for us to sit down with you and discuss the many values which these tidal marshes have to the production of finfish and shellfish along our Atlantic Seaboard” … Yours very truly, Arroll L. Lamson, Chief, Game Division (The meeting occurred on May 4, 1958 – anyone interested in the complete meeting transcript  (11 pages) please email [email protected] for one).  It is these shallow water habitats close to shore yet subject to long term climate changes that contain blue crabs.

Weather Climate Periods Alter Shallow Water Habitats

But Dr. Galtsoff’s meeting occurred at the height of the cold period, a negative NAO.  Waters were not “warm” but cool.  Oxygen saturation levels were often high in shallow water.  Storms kept organic matter from accumulating on bay bottoms which were “firmer” and very different from the turn of the century which when Connecticut declared salt marshes a public nuisance (1895) from disease such as Malaria.  In cold periods a coralline algae “red weed” was the primary bay scallop setting algae and are known for their secretions of calcium carbonate skeletons, not the acid soils of peat in warm temperatures.  In hot periods Connecticut suffered Malaria outbreaks and during cold periods it did not.  The last Malaria outbreak happened in 1938 – and by that time many of the Connecticut marshes where filled, modified with tide gates or grid ditched from public policies of disease prevention approved by the state and administered by the Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station in New Haven.  See David Casagrande, Yale, “The Full Circle – An Historical Context for Urban Salt Marsh Restoration.”

In heat, peat – subtidal eelgrass peat and tidal salt marsh peat turns negative for inshore habitat quality – releasing toxic aluminum, ammonia and sulfides the rotten egg smells of then black water (sulfide) deaths we know today as fish kills..

During that period of 1880s salt marshes were looked at as a dangerous place, and a source of Malaria disease.  As Malaria spread from Greenwich eastward 1911 to 1913 coastal community’s health depts. ordered salt marshes to be filled.  The Bayview Park, salt pond and waterways next to the Foote building – The Sound School were filled in at the time the only remains of the long granite seawall are visible today.  What could be “natural” during a cold and stormy period could be very different during a long and very hot period.  This would also impact fish and shellfish abundance as well – those species that did better in high energy colder habitats, versus those they like the heat and quieter warmer waters – such as oysters and blue crabs.

Without an analysis of what was “natural” in terms of resource use would soon place those activities that involved habitat creation, modification or mitigation subject to regulatory review.  In this transformation (and the absence of accepted habitat successional profiles) any perceived negative habitat impacts could then be attributed only to “us.”  This was at first an effort to curb pollution of resources (extremely important in its own right) but changed over time to resource protection policies which were much broader than pollution controls or renewable use limits as it now mirrored century old conservation policies.

Nature and Environmental Protection

Many organizations which already had included conservation quickly embraced environmental protection created by the first National Park System after the turn of the century.  Protecting the environment became a national policy.  However this would impact coastal studies and coastal policies in the decades that followed.

In environmental protection policies the natural impacts (or natural environmental history) were frequently eclipsed by our actions.  The process to dredge channels a human activity was something that nature did itself during hurricanes etc.)  This change in public policy is similar to why so many states have enacted “Right to Farm” legislation, states have been slow to recognize this regulatory viewpoint bias (renewable natural resources) but it is there nonetheless.  This viewpoint is most observable in the marine area when in extremely hot periods small bays and sounds have oxygen poor waters – that is natural as warm water holds less oxygen in heat – but very few studies mention this “inverse oxygen solubility law” or natural low oxygen conditions to the public.  The warmer the water the less oxygen it can hold naturally.  When oxygen deficient conditions were attributed to nitrogen inputs here soon occurred a new term of “cultural eutrophication” came to be the bucket into which natural habitat succession was soon “dumped.  In some areas habitat histories will show that in “hot terms” it is natural to have fish kills – and protection overall tends to minimize climate cycles and fisheries history in the up and downs of seafood species who live in shallow estuarine habitats – my view.  We have a unique opportunity with the blue crab as a way to examine habitat quality in different environmental/climate conditions as never before we should take advantage of it - my view.

The Blue Crab a Sentinel for Habitat Change?

So much of the blue crab story in southern New England and areas further south is the story of habitat change itself.  We can see this habitat change over the past century as coastal inlets open and close from cold and warm climate cycles, with the most change occurring from 1938 to 1972.  This period was storm filled with colder winters, storm intensity increased and colder water is denser and therefore more erosion damaging to coastal shores.  This period saw the coastline retreat from hurricanes leaving a battle line of destroyed seawalls and homes along many of New England’s shores.  This habitat battle took its toll on the warmer water blue crab – McHugh writes in 1972 that the Blue Crab fishery in New York had collapsed during this period.  His 1972 report contains this section,

“In the waters of New York State, the blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, is near the northern limit of its range.  It has never been a major species in the catch in this area.  Because the blue crab is highly variable in abundance from natural causes even in the center of its range (McHugh, 1969a), it might be expected to be extremely variable in New York waters, and the history of the commercial fishery suggests that this has been true (Figure 6).  Landings have declined steadily but irregularly, since the maximum recorded catch of about 1.6 million pounds (725 metric tons) in 1880.  Catches rose briefly in the 1930s, in a recorded peak of more than half a million pounds (270) metric tons) in 1935, but after a minor upsurge in the early 1950s the fishery collapsed.  No commercial catch has been recorded since 1961.”

This high energy cold water period also saw many coastal inlets reopened or broke open and recultivated marine soils.  We have some good habitat histories to follow such changes in shellfish (quahog)/hard clam) production such as in Great South Bay, New York to see how coastal energy can change species abundance.  By the 1920s quahog fisheries had significantly declined in southern New England – years of heat and few storms likely changed marine soils then to those not suitable for quahog sets.  (See IMEP report #58, Blue Crab Forum™ Fishing, Eeeling and Oystering Thread posted on January 28, 2016).  Oyster sets in this previous warm period had however greatly improved (1880-1920) now they “failed” in colder 1960s.  The storms of the 1950s and 1960s opened many inlets, species changed and baymen fishing these waters soon noticed the difference.  If any common theme is to be found is the change in fisheries after tidal flushing increased.  In 2000 several interviews of baymen who fished New York’s bays and made part of a Storm Damage Reduction Reformulation Study (prepared for the Army Corps of Engineers) by Allee King Rosen and Fleming Inc include several statements that include these habitat observations – some are reprinted here below.

Baymen 2: One baymen stated, “No flushing makes a dead sea.” Quantuk Bay, between Moriches and Shinnecock Bays, is always brown. The flushing is not good in Quantuk Bay, and in the summer the brown tide percolates and turns the water brown. There is seasonal shellfishing in the winter months, but you can’t make a day’s pay, and the clams don’t look healthy. There is not enough oxygen for the clams on the bottom. Clams need to have a frequent flushing over them, and a soft and clean bottom without silt build-up. Dredging occurred in the 1970's in Quantuk Bay. Suffolk County had 2 dredges back then, but one has been sold. After dredging, productivity was high for at least 10 years. The year after the breach, in the spring, there was an abundance of clams. After the breach was closed, the clams were gone. Houses are being built on drained salt marshes where clams used to grow. This bayman’s major concerns were the loss of habitat for both fish and shellfish, which use the estuary as a nursery, and an increase in pollution, which further damages the remaining habitat. He believes additional flushing in the bay would stabilize conditions enough so that marine organisms would flourish.”

Bayman 5: “Before the 1938 hurricane created Shinnecock Inlet, Shinnecock Bay’s only source of salt water was Moriches Bay. It was like Mecox Bay. There wasn’t much flush here. It used to stink from the lack of flushing. There were also crabs because of the brackish water before the 1938 hurricane. The trouble is getting the crab spawn to survive. After the breach you could get 30-40 bushels of blue crab/day. Tiana Bay had a good set of blue claw crabs 3 years ago. One bayman found 1 bushel of pregnant female blue claws. He left them in the bay so that the spawn would have a chance to survive, but the spawn died anyway. Yet the spider and sand crab spawn lived that same year. Before the 1938 hurricane, there were so many flounder that there was not enough food for them, and none of the flounders grew bigger than your hand. After the hurricane when the inlet was created, the flounders started to grow, but there were fewer of them. Now there are hardly any flounders.”

Bayman 7: “Soft clams and oysters were the common shellfish in the 1940's in Moriches, Tiana, and Shinnecock Bays. Before the 1938 hurricane, Shinnecock Bay didn’t have hard clams, just soft clams and oysters. You could go, as one bayman did, right after school and catch 5 bushels. In those 5 bushels, he had only 3 hard chowder clams. The chowders, he said, now populated these bays, not the cherries and the necks. Then oysters began to disappear. The only places to find oysters in Shinnecock Bay were 1/4 mile east of the inlet, near a small island, and just west of the Ponquogue Bridge, 1/2 mile east of the inlet. The high salinity in these areas was perfect for oyster growth. This bayman said we need another hurricane to stir up the bottom of the bays.”

The observations of different shellfish species and the change in blue crab abundance does have a temperature and energy connection.  These changes also changed the chemistry of these marine soils as well, especially in those that contain roots, root tissue or “peat.”

The energy filled and colder water had many changes for these marine soils and organic peat deposits near them.  This would be the end of eelgrass , but would increase kelp/cobblestone  habitats along New England’s coast.

The warmer four decades before (1880-1920) held little coastal energy, inlets tended to heal or close.  Coastal flushing in many areas decreased and retention/residence time increased.  In salt ponds coves and bays waters warmed, bottoms perhaps became softer as organic matter accumulated.  Soil in heat could now purge sulfides the black water (sulfide) deaths.  Some of the worst winter flounder fish kills occurred in these salt ponds with narrow inlets such as Moriches Bay Long Island New York often mentioned as heavy “stagnant” waters.  The Moriches Bay most likely had the largest winter flounder kill which occurred there between July 29 to August 4, 1917.  This Moriches Bay winter flounder fish kill occurred in very warm temperatures and lasted for several days.  I suspect that some local newspapers covered the event as such fish kills were often accompanied by strong sulfide smells.  {If anyone ever finds a newspaper article about this summer 1917 winter flounder fish kill drop me a line, I would like to see a primary source article – Tim}. Coming off the bitter cold 1870s, by the warmer 1890s oyster sets had increased but quahog sets now declined.  Quahogs setting into acid soils soon perish as David Belding's studies on Cape Cod in 1900’s confirmed.  Fish markets still needed quahogs (especially for New York markets) and quahog bedding and quahog seed purchases became established in southern New England (IMEP 59-A, IMEP 59-B posted on the Blue Crab Forum™, August 5, 2016 Fishing, Eeling, Oystering Thread) in the early 1900s. 

But all that would change in 1938, the September (21) Hurricane would break the relative calm of New England’s coastlines.  After many decades of relative stability the coastline was on the move again – inland.  Barrier beaches split, other inlets broke open in “new openings” occurred and some channels deepened.  Coastal landowners had most likely no idea of a negative NAO climate pattern meant to them once in place, bay scallops, smelt and winter flounder now thrived.  Their coastal properties often did not.  The storms while destroying many coastal features, homes and cottages peaked in the 1955 hurricane season with hurricanes Connie and Diane that came only two weeks apart.  By 1962 coastal inlets in New England were open after two decades of nearly constant hurricane energy most likely as wide as the colder storm filled 1870s.  The chemistry of these marine soils changed again, rinsed of organic matter, increased soil pore circulation quahog sets were now huge in New England.  This era was to bring the flood and erosion control federal projects and Connecticut’s appointment of local flood and erosion control boards.

Salt ponds and bays do tend to hold warm water species longer and Baymen #5 comments speaks to Blue Crab Megalops survival, and makes the connection to other colder water crab species surviving.  These coastal bay inlets and bay habitat observations are very important and for the Connecticut side you can now see these historic changes from aerial maps/and photographs.

Thanks to the University of Connecticut’s CLEAR program Connecticut fishers can see some of these storm and sea level rise changes in some time series on the internet.  The UCONN Clear program has made them available Connecticut’s Coast Then And Now or the CLEAR story map gallery.  The State of Connecticut in 1934 commissioned the Fairchild company to take photographs of Connecticut in an aerial over flight photograph series.  They also show how manmade tidal restrictions (rail crossings) may speed up habitat succession and match some of the comments made by winter flounder fishers in the 1980s.  {The UCONN Clear series is a large help in understanding the energy impacts and years of little to no energy over long periods of time to Connecticut’s coast.  It is well worth the look and perhaps something similar will be developed for other Long Island coastal bays.}

After 1972 a more positive NAO weather pattern occurred in New England – warmer and fewer storms and it is this period fishers witnessed the rise of Sapropel – black mayonnaise organic matter in many coves.  The 1980s and 1990s blue crabbers experienced the rise of blue crabs again in southern New England.  This was opposite the cooler 1950s and 1960s in which coastal bays marine soils were cultivated and organic Sapropel redistributed as blue crabs generally declined.  This “energy” also had profound implications for thousands of acres of subtidal habitats along New England’s coast as marine soils were now “cultivated” and rinsed of organic acids.  The sets of Quahogs in these clean cultivated soils are easily observed in the Rhode Island hard clam landings data of the 1950s and 1960s.

The 1950s and 1960s were also times of great change along the coast, more coastal salt water farms were sold for development – the post war economic boon created demands for shoreline homes and cottages built during the 1880-1920 “great heat” to escape the urban killing heat waves of the 1900s were now winterized.  Shore communities suddenly found an influx of shore visitors who now stayed all year.  Elmer Edwards of the Groton Shellfish Commission once remarked to me that “shore communities sprang up faster than spring corn” (The Story of Groton Long Point IMEP is on the Blue Crab Forum™ The Fall of New England’s Cold Water fisheries 1890-1910 posted on October 1, 2015).   With increased populations came capacity issues, water, septic, the paving of roads and the filling/dredging of salt marshes. The focus upon human actions soon eclipsed climate changes for the increases or decreases in seafood.  After all it was very easy to see the dredging and filling and not so to notice the slow process below the tide line of marine habitat succession.  Sea wall building and paving changed storm water run-off and energy systems.  When the environment movement along the coast mobilized into a Coastal Zone Management Initiative (1970s) its focus would be upon us - and when seafood declined it was easy to blame “us” as well.  I can understand how that could happen in the absence of history greater than noticeable shoreline development which certainly had negative consequences and it made a plausible reason for the declines in seafood, but not always. That is not the usual inshore fisher experience – they caught lobsters and flounder with bacterial rot, saw the brown algal blooms and sulfide kills bottom now were soft covered with white bacterial films and smelled of sulfur and the marine soils in them from temperature.  To those inshore fishers habitats had indeed changed over time.

I think most fishers realize that you cannot always have abundant warm water fisheries and cold water fisheries at the same time.  However these species may pass each other as ships at sea, the ending of a habitat clock for some species as another habitat starts.  Lobsters fishers in the 1890s noticed the decline of lobsters but most likely did not immediately notice the increase of blue crabs.  What you do see in the historical literature is cycles but those cycles are determined by long term case studies.  Fishers observe part of a cycle and may not even at times notice it.  This is evident in the Clear UCONN website when examining the Poquonnock River system in Groton, CT – bisected by two railroad causeways each reduced tidal energy and wind/wave fetch times.  Although at one time the upper and middle sections were granted to oyster culture these beds are now covered by several feet of Sapropel  in the mid-1980s (personal observations 1980s).  In the colder 1950s and early 1960s the Poquonnock River supported a large bay scallop fishery in the warmer 1990s bay scallops were rare.  Thanks to the UCONN – Clear website and presentations of the Connecticut 1934 coastal survey you can see storm (natural) and man-made energy reductions by way of causeways and other areas over time.  The habitat change is occurring in every breach, coastal inlet and tidal creek salt marsh as sea levels continue to rise.

Madison, Connecticut Example of Long Term Habitat Change

You can see in a very small way this natural slow (energy) habitat transition happening today (instead of rapid high energy change which of course is much more noticeable).  In the 1790s earlier post-Colonial hand drawn maps (now Madison, Connecticut but before part of Guilford) the 1792 Blodget map shows a tidal creek Fence Creek, in Madison with a pronounced “oxbow” bend in the lower creek.  Usually this type of bend looks like a collapsing horseshoe, eventually the currents scour the side of the bends – cutting into and – in time isolating the bend itself.  The 1852 Whiteford map of Madison shows the oxbow elongated and by the 1893 USGS Guilford Quadrangle (1890 survey) shows the classic bent in ward and the “toe” of the bent horseshoe.  Eventually the base “breaks” and the now isolated section slowly fills.  This reduces the energy in the section now isolated from tidal energy.  Oysters and clams are now slowly buried leaving a Sapropel layer.  In time organic matter will continue to collect and hundreds of years later a marsh perhaps peat will exist.  Coring a sample then would show at some point the habitat below contained oysters and clams as a layer (varve) of bivalve shell will be in the core.  But this habitat change is now noticeable.  To visit a rare oxbow break in progress Fence Creek is located on Middle Beach Road, Madison, Connecticut and low tide is best looking north from the bridge over the creek.  (The oxbow is easily seen on the UCONN Clear site).  The 1790 Fence Creek oxbow broke in 2011-- the easterly bend is now much energy deprived Sapropel (black mayonnaise) a marine organic compost is forming in the low energy section.  A blue black stick or greasy substance has now filled this part of the creek.  A grab or sample from below should yield recently suffocated oysters and clams.  This is a start of a bivalve/Sapropel “varve” or layer in coves that happened several hundred years ago.  A Wesleyan Researcher Dr. Peter Patton between 1992 and 1994 did extensive vibrio coring of Connecticut coves in state reports CWF-266-R and CWF 310-R, reports in all the coves he sampled, he found varves of black facies (Sapropel) between layers of bivalve shell.  This information was detailed on the blue crab forum posts IMEP #15 and part 1 and IMEP #15 part II posted in April 2, 2014 (Blue Crab Forum™ Fishing, Eeling and Oyster Thread).

What fishers experienced for inshore habitat changes in Clinton Harbor or the Groton Poquonnock and East Lyme, Pattangasset Rivers can be seen in just a few moments on the UCONN Clear website.  The Clinton Harbor series showing the opening and closing of the Dardanelles is especially interesting as this is one of my most studied habitat sites mentioned many times in The Blue Crab Forum™ IMEP habitat history newsletters posted there.  The UCONN Clear site is an immense help in understanding some of the energy features of shallow water habitat succession.  I hope that Connecticut inshore fishers will take advantage of these coastal habitat time series examples.

A Habitat History is Key to Estuarine Study and Seafood Abundance

In one of more unsuccessful shellfish restoration projects in the 1980s I supervised was the Poquonnock River Oyster project in Groton, CT.  (See ICSR South Carolina 2006 conference paper, Shellfish Restoration Projects Linked to Estuarine Health).  At the time armed with turn of the century oyster deed maps and help from Mr. Elmer Edwards of the Groton Shellfish Commission of I planted several thousand bushels of cultch (oyster shell) to revive oyster culture here.  A few weeks later a few tows with an oyster dredge yielded a have dozen or so shells - that was all.  Pipe tests found the bottom now to be a soupy black ooze that smelled of sulfur.  Mr. Edwards was disappointed, that was hard bottom in the 1940s.  It wasn’t hard bottom in the 1980s, it was exactly the opposite of hard, it was a soupy mixture I termed black mayonnaise in a report to the Groton Shellfish Commission a few days later (see Specialist Warns of Black Mayonnaise Threat Appendix #2).  Addition probe tests with a pipe yielded a more sandy/firm bottom below these black mayonnaise deposits – yielding direct evidence of a habitat history.  The Poquonnock River contained a habitat history of firmer bottoms and different soil chemistry than what I experienced in the 1980’s.  The popular belief at the time was that human pollution was responsible for the habitat changes.  A better picture could be drawn with a wider larger longer habitat view, something that I should have checked before starting the project.

The 1930s saw storms that changed Connecticut’s entire shore – cold temperatures after the 1938 Hurricane likely helped the Poquonnock River bay scallops crop grow larger peaking on firmer “cleaned” bottoms in the 1940s and 1950s.  These storms had no doubt dislodged this loose organic deposit (and along the New England Coast) leaving firmer bottoms in its place – a different habitat that had different habitat services.  This is the time of smelt, bay scallop and winter flounder.  This was the habitats that Mr. Edwards recalled.

Organic matter (mostly leaves) had blanketed the upper Poquonnock River in the 1970s which now composted in the 1980s.  That is one of the largest problems of marine habitat succession is that it is directly connected to climate, both energy systems (storms) and temperatures.  The Poquonnock River had two tidal restrictions (Rail Crossings) that helped Sapropel form.  In the 1980s Long Island Sound experienced growing heat, summers very warm and winters often snow free and mild.  The Poquonnock River thermal condition was worsened by two railroad crossings which further restricted tidal circulation helping hold warmer water.  (It was established practice in the 1900s to save costs eliminate wood trestles that frequently caught fire and to build earthen causeways which tended to dam up estuaries and restrict tidal waters than to replace them).

The 1980s and 1990s were for most purposes storm free for Long Island Sound as compared to the 1950s and 1960s.  There was Hurricane Gloria in 1985 and Bob in 1991 but they paled to storms of the 1950s.  For many species the 1972 to 2012 period resembled the 1880 to 1920 period before.  We certainly have energy examples in New England, the 1931, 1936, and 1938 hurricanes and a series of hurricanes in the 1950s and 1960s – here the constant pounding of bay bottoms had removed natures compost (Sapropel) leaving sandy/shelly bottoms that had clams and soft clams set in larger amounts.  Winter flounder found these habitats to be very “welcoming” putting large flounder now into the range of small boats and shore fishers.  This is the time of the Quincy Bay winter flounder fishery in Massachusetts.  While we focus upon the destructive capacity of these storms they do have a role in habitat succession, reversing it according to temperature in a much longer time period.  You can see the grasses quickly return after a forest fire but marine grasses it may take decades to return waiting for energy storm levels to reside and marine composts again to build up as habitat instability that later becomes more stable. Contrary to forest fires, hurricanes can occur in the same geographic region and the 1950s and 1960s were filled with multiple storms.  Marine soils changed with these energy systems, the organic composts with sulfuric acid washes were transitioned over time to alkaline bottoms, home of the coralline reds – great habitats for scallops.  Hurricanes are huge habitat modifiers as nature deals itself a seat at the habitat change table.  We can see the destruction, windrows of seafood cast up on the beaches but who looks to newer different habitats years later.  The cycle of fisheries is connected to those habitats and that is a natural succession process as well.  The ones who look at these new or different habitats over time are fishers.

Changes in Energy and Temperature Produce Habitat Changes 

A warming climate in New England was good for the oyster industry, cut off from seed oysters during the Civil War and then pounded by the brutally cold and stormy 1870s New England waters started to warm, and the oyster industry improved.  The largest sets now happened in the harbors but between 1890 to 1895 oysters spread out into the shallows, all along the shore and now set upon natural beds areas of sandy shelly marine soils*.  Into this great heat came better and better oyster sets – oyster companies cleaned Sapropel – put down clean oyster shell and those areas too soft but had excellent oyster growth “hardened” these mucky bottoms with, shell, gravel, cinders crushed brick or stone rubble to make these habitats suitable for oyster culture.  The record of CT oyster sets themselves provides direct evidence of the increase of oyster sets.  But with the heat came bacterial disease.  Disease outbreaks attributed to raw oysters and raw milk grew in number and publicity.  With increased public concern of “pure food” and bacterial infections/outbreaks of the 1890s it soon faced a different climate – it was now growing colder.

As the 1920s turned into the 1930s winters became to be both very cold and then stormy but it wasn’t until the late 1920s that the oyster industry realized that the New England climate had turned against them.  The oyster industry petitioned Congress for an investigation of the “oyster situation” in 1928 and that is the foundation of the NOAA Milford Laboratory that today still continues the aquaculture research mission with oyster hatchery science.  By the time oyster hatcheries became an industrial practice most of the oyster companies that had asked for the research were out of business, they just ran out of seed oysters.  Oyster sets came late or none at all.  When the Connecticut oyster industry failed in 1973 it was awarded disaster funding and was at the end of a 50 year colder period.  In 1974 the warming started and oyster sets then slowly recovered.  The period marked by the decline of lobsters was marked by an increase in oysters now into the 1990s oysters set “everywhere” T. Visel, personal observation).  Environmental fisheries history (combines long term climate, and energy, with fisher reports and catch landing statistics) as a way to investigate habitat quality is just now being recognized as an area of importance.  I always wanted to see if what some fishers reported in Connecticut historically was region wide; did fishers also see the same habitat changes in others states that I saw in shallow water or experienced the same thing I did growing up in Connecticut?  The answer to that now is “yes” for the time period I witnessed.  One of the best indicators I feel we have is the blue crab.

While blue crabbing in the 1960s, I had no idea that lobsters had died off in Connecticut sixty years before at the same time blue crabs also then became very abundant.  The experiences I had access to were the ones I could see…that was all.  In the 1960s a catch of 8 to 12 blue crabs in a tide was a good catch.  I had heard stories of better crabbing long ago but they were decades before.

Thanks to the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management and the Town of Chatham, Massachusetts for the latest report recently released titled, “The Study of the Marine Resources of Pleasant Bay,” Fiske et al. 1967 contains an interesting section regarding blue crabs as a series of colder winters caused blue crabs to decline all across Southern New England – fishers and fishery managers were curious why- important enough even then to deserve a mention.  Others in other states had in fact also noticed the decline of blue crabs including Rhode Island and New York – from Pleasant Bay Cape Cod-1967.

“No significant bait or edible crab fishery exists in the bay; however, an unconfirmed report by the Harwich Shellfish Officer suggested that a few blue claw crabs (Callinectes sapidus) were taken by family fishermen in the area of Muddy Creek, Harwich. It should be noted that during the 12-month sampling period biologists did not capture or observe any blue claw crabs in the estuary. During the course of interviews, many local fishermen expressed concern over the disappearance of blue claw crabs in the bay. In recent years, there have been similar reports from many areas along the southern shore of Massachusetts. The cause for the general decline of this species in Massachusetts is unknown. Until recently, many bays and tidal rivers supported substantial family fishing for these edible crabs. Since this species appears to be in marked decline, specific investigation should be conducted to find the cause of this decline and to determine possible methods of rehabilitating the crab stocks.” 

I have not been able to find evidence that Massachusetts looked into this Blue Crab question.  I have however found records that Rhode Island did.  Jeffries writing about Rhode Island Blue Crab populations in (1966) describes how the Blue Crab industry flourished turn of the century in Narragansett Bay in the 1900’s and referenced several Rhode Island fisheries reports but by the 1940s had greatly declined.  New York fishery managers recorded much the same for the 1950s and 1960s.  Again J. L. McHugh provides some insight on the decline of blue crabs in New York during the 1950s and 1960s.

Marine Fisheries of New York State, J. L. McHugh     Abstract 1972

The Blue Crab

“In Chesapeake Bay, with major fluctuations, the blue crab catch has been increasing for about 35 years.  It has been suggested that the increased catch has been caused by increased abundance generated by nutrient enrichment in the estuaries (McHugh, 1969a). There is no direct evidence to support this hypothesis, but it is not untenable.  Other than the decade of increased landings of blue crab which began about 1929 in New York, and a longer period of highly variable but substantially increased catches in the middle Atlantic region which ended in the late 1950s (McHugh, 1973), there has been no similar continuing upward trend in blue crab production north of Chesapeake Bay.  It is interesting to speculate that the enrichment of coastal waters and estuaries in the middle Atlantic region of the United States from domestic and industrial wastes may have stimulated blue crab production for a while, then became a limiting factor as eutrophication proceeded too far.”

Most fishery researchers only had fish catch statistics and did not have a broader historical context, one that looked a climate cycles (NAO) or temperature changes.  By the 1960s, the Blue Crab fishery information was not recorded but was a feature of those who only pursued it.  The history of the oyster industry is most likely our best case habitat history because so much local, information were linked to specific habitats/locations and are recorded.  The next would be the lobster industry, followed perhaps by smelt and alewife.

The difference was with the decline from the turn of century blue crab fishery is it was gradual and blue crabbing did not have the industry or economic recognition the oyster industry had.  Before seed oyster preparation occurred here millions of bushels of seed oysters were brought north into New England waters for grow out before 1861.  From 1812 to 1912 oyster culture had grown to involve hundreds of vessels from large dredge boats to natural growth tongers.  Thousands were employed, gathering seed or harvesting buried shell called shellerman moving seed, cultivating it, harvest vessels, predator control or working ashore.  The oyster industry had its own industry association – the Oyster Growers and Dealers Association 1907, and a trade magazine, the Oysterman and Fisherman.  When the blue crab fishery surged in the 1890s it was a surprise, or as the Rhode Island fishery managers termed it then “the Blue Crab Question” Warmers waters now made New Bedford and the Buzzards Bay region at Wareham, Massachusetts Blue Crab capital but it was a shore and mostly skiff fishery, modest equipment – there was no industry association or infrastructure that was the size or scale of the oyster industry.  When the blue crab fishery declined – I suspect small boat fishers just switched to hard clams or bay scallops as they now became more abundant.  When the oyster industry declined the industry appealed to the US Fish and Wildlife Service for an investigation.  They had the influence of a large industry to do so, small blue crabbers most likely just switched to other species when lines then held few crabs for them.  The 1890 survey of Long Island Sound yielded dead oysters (suspect sulfide starvation) but provided the first glimpse of Sapropel – organic matter transitioning thousands of inshore acres to those now toxic to sea life. New London Day, March 21, 1890, Long Island Sound: A Bottom of Putrefied Things”, IMEP #59B, August 5, 2016, Blue Crab Forum™: Fishing, Eeling and Oystering Thread.

Climate Change and Agriculture

In the 1870s New England farmers had also faced some similar climate changes, the bitter cold and long cool springs had shortened the growing seasons.  Coal frames a wood frame of glass placed over the earth was sometimes all that was needed to give bedding plants a head start.  By now even larger structures were needed – the greenhouse.

The solar benefit of heat and solar habitat mitigation goes back further to the fruit trees grown against castle walls.  Here the solar heat was collected in these immense walls to be released at night.  An entire fruit growing system called “Espalier” soon developed using walls and giving those habitats a thermal advantage.  The first greenhouses were just an angled wall of grass against a wall – and the colder 1870s saw stand alone “greenhouses” developed and vegetable production soar in areas around high market demand areas such as Boston.  Greenhouses in the 1870s had closed the vegetable life cycle for farmers and by 1970s shellfish hatchery technology had done the same for oysters, a century later.  The habitat mitigation factor was heat allowing culture operations to continue while natural habitats had succeeded to those no longer having that habitat capacity, it was cold.  What caused the Dutch to experiment with glass/walls was the climate cycle today known as the “little ice age” in Europe from 1350-1850.  It was very cold then and the hot frame practice of bio chemical heat (the breakdown of manure by bacteria) had long been noticed by farmers.  Manure piles covered in snow were “warm” by the heat generated by bacterial oxidation.  I recall my own 4H days with horses moving such piles in February with green seeds sprouting beneath the surface.  I was amazed at the heat these manure piles could generate even germinating oats and grain seeds while it snowed.  I knew that something was creating the heat I just did not know what – the soil chemistry had changed from the bacteria in them.

The heat would continue in New England and in 1906 Gifford Pinchot then head of the Forest Service urged President Roosevelt to speak to school children about the importance of trees and did so on April 15, 1907 as an Arbor Day Proclamation and the importance of trees in cooling cities and soil retention.  As conservation measures shade direct sunlight and making organic matter dry and combustible a forest fire concern.  The forest fires of 1910 and 1911 described as The Big Blow Up would forever change how we would treat forest fires.

But salt marshes provide a similar solar collecting aspect especially in tidal areas – here the heat capacity of water (about 5 times that of earth) can hold enormous amounts heat – the shallows warm up the fastest and deep waters hold the heat well past the first frost.  Salt water farms an average had a larger “grower season” buffered by the heat sink of Long Island Sound.  Subtidal areas hold organic matter reduced in the presence of iron therefore it is black and collects even greater solar capacity.  It is the heat that added to the “Black Water deaths” of the last century while bacteria provided the rotten egg smells - the sulfides.  The chemical reduction of organic matter in salt marshes is one aspect that we can use to follow this bacterial conflict between heat and cold and recent sulfide/sulfur dieback (See EC #7 Salt Marshes A Climate Change Battlefield July 2015).  It is these shallow habitats mentioned today as “critical” to many inshore fisheries and chemical reactions important to this living ecosystem compost as they are the first to turn against the seafood we “value.”  We made need to look at salt marshes as first marine manure (sorry) as farmers did of Sapropel – harvesting it for fertilizer.  One of the things we need to do is stop referring to the bottom as sediment – we need to call it soil – it may be very wet but many of the same biochemical processes occur in marine soils as those classified as earth soils and the terrestrial organic matter we call compost.  (Sediment largely ignore/excludes the organic components and I find that manure is rarely referred to as animal “sediments” (or gardeners tilling the backyard sediments).

The increase of oysters and blue crabs here can be directly connected to heat, so cold water habitat succession is different as well.  In heat, oysters, blue crabs black sea bass and striped bass do better in cold lobsters, quahogs, tautaug and winter flounder do better.  Add energy wind currents, waves, and it’s easy to see how habitat succession can become very complicated except in salt marshes here succession is very apparent and subtidal habitats can provide the first clues to the difference between “natural” habitat succession and those now associated with climate change impacts – from us.  Salt marshes after all, are low energy areas in which organic peat deposits collected and over time broke the surface and then sustained grasses adapted to this habitat between the sea and land.  When that happened Sapropel became peat with root tissue from plant life.  When that occurred a chemical clock started to influence species habitat clocks as well.

It is “marine peat” that shares many of the biochemical processes studied over a century ago.  The salt marsh “peats” have at times toxic “exudate” discharges that are toxic to fish and shellfish in periods of heat.  These habitat histories are frequently “missing” from salt marsh studies that mention how they perform in much colder temperatures.  That salt marsh habitat history of disease, (Malaria outbreaks) and toxic sulfides are “missing” from many current salt marsh studies.  The salt marsh browning from sulfides is now apparent on many Connecticut salt marshes.  Some crabbers and shore residents have noticed that the salt marshes appear to be “sick”.  And those observations match sulfide toxicity, plant zonation, oxygen availability the browning or stunting of salt marsh grasses (Yuhas, NEERS 1984).  The chemical interactions of climate change occur here first in the salt marshes and the chemical change to include the Sulfur Cycle is utmost importance to the climate change discussions.  We need to include the sulfur cycle in salt marsh studies, it is long overdue, and has a direct role in the rise of fall of blue crabs that live in them.  (Yuhas 1984) provides some of the research that supports the role in habitat succession in salt marshes, the intermediate plant between eelgrass and salt marsh hay (Spartina patens) is Spartina alterniflora and its ability to move oxygen from the air to its roots below the water.  {The abstract of his paper is on the internet, New England Estuarine Research Society meeting in 1984, “The Importance of Oxygen Diffusion Rates and Chemical Oxygen Demands in Influencing Vascular Plant Zonation Patterns on the Saltmarsh” but we will shortly have the entire paper available because its author Eric Yuhas is our Sound School Assistant Principal.

I respond to all emails at [email protected]

The Great Heat Oyster and Blue Crab Fisheries of the 1900s  - appendix #1

The Bias of Perspective - John Hammond’s Habitat History Lesson

The recent improvement in the southern New England blue crab population from 2000 provides an opportunity to block out institutional bias as represented by different points of view.  Mr. Hammond did not like that in many instances, fishers were being “scapegoated” for natural fisheries cycles. To him, largely those seafood cycles were guided by temperature and storms or energy (He would tell me that Cape Cod bay scallopers in the 1950s were once “heros” harvesting nature’s bounty but then cast as resource abusers or villains when bay scallop recruitment later failed in the 1970s).

I hope that we do not see the same thing occur here if New England Blue Crab populations if colder temperatures return and they collapse (again). They were not overfished; it just perhaps got cold again.  Megalops sets perhaps came too late (October/November) and the prevailing winds blew Megalops out into deeper waters and winter storms increased with sulfide suspected kills. Note - I had an opportunity to review this larval drift concept with George McNeil in the early 1980s. George had operated the McNeil Oyster Company in which the Sound School cafeteria is located today. Jack Milkofsky of Ivoryton had located a rare linen map (1889) of all the natural oyster beds in Long Island Sound. During this period Connecticut’s shores were lined with “natural” oyster beds; Norwalk, Bridgeport and New Haven’s natural beds being the largest. The New York shore (north side of Long Island) had none and showing this map to Mr. McNeil, he gave this explanation; he stated that in these warm years oysters spawned earlier - May through June. The prevailing summer winds were southwesterly and spat was just blown against the Connecticut shore. I never had the time to fully research this explanation, but it now appears very plausible, and may help answer why in the 1950s and 1960s oyster sets in CT declined when Westerly to North Westerly winds of shifted.  (The 1968 Army Corps of Engineers Study of Chatham Mass has a record of prevailing winds).

In the 1950s and 1960s, winters were colder; they possibly delayed oyster gonad maturation and spawning. If the oyster set came later into the fall, the winds may have changed by then-blowing spat into deep waters and away from the shell covered inshore beds. Many at the time held to the overfishing concept for the seed oyster decline and this viewpoint is still common today.  (The same thing may have happened to the blue crab).  Historical records indicate that the only oyster sets from this period, a strong, negative NAO climate period, were in shallow, warmer harbors, Norwalk, Bridgeport and New Haven.  Late oyster sets sometimes in November did occur in Connecticut, far beyond the “normal” July shelling period in the 1950s and 1960s. That may have happened to the Blue Crab Megalops in 2013 and 2014. Black Sea Bass fishers reported that Black Sea Bass were caught in 90 feet water with gut cavities filled with small blue crabs in October and November. By that time, north westerlies were building and a late blue crab Megalops may also be impacted by changing winds as well.  That situation may have contributed to a huge decline of Blue Crabs here in Connecticut in 2015.  The same decline happened after 1924, by 1945 blue crabs were often described as “scarce” and by the 1960s and 1970s sometimes absent. 

To a biologist, blue crabs might have been overfished; to a fishery area manager, perhaps catch limits or size restrictions were insufficient; to blue crab fishers, it was just a cycle and to the general public, perhaps pollution was to blame for the decline in seafood.  Each perspective relates to another – from the viewpoint of each that seeks an explanation for a specific event. They may be all made without all the neces
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« Reply #1 on: December 23, 2016, 02:17:00 PM »

good read
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