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Author Topic: Megalops #2 - A Mid-Season Report and Other Crabs -August 2018  (Read 712 times)
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« on: August 08, 2018, 01:45:21 PM »

A Mid-Season Report and Other Crabs
The Search For Megalops – Report #2
“You Do Not Need to Be A Scientist To Report”
View all Megalops, Environment, Conservation and Habitat History Posts on The Blue Crab Forum ™
Tim Visel
The Sound School, New Haven, CT 06519

A Mid-Season Report and Other Crabs

   A slow season at mid-year – Winter kill suspected
   The first Jimmies – very hard shells
   Blue Crab Megalops – small crabs may not be Blue Crabs
   Other crabs, Calico and Green Crabs
   A great Crab Dinner – Cancer pagurus – The Brown Crab of the North Sea and Sheerness, Isle of Sheppey – and the Thames River at the City of London, UK

Mid-Season Report
After a very cool spring, crabs finally showed in the Connecticut River toward the end of June, but catches remain very low- 1 or 2 crabs per hour. Catches in deeper river bends or holes in salt ponds were better as crabs moved from 8 to 10 feet to 4 to 6 feet deep.  Crabbers who fished from boats and near winter hibernation areas (salty depressions or dredged channels did better and some good catches were made.  However, most viewpoints along to Atlantic Seaboard point to the sudden and severe winter-spring for the recent drop in Blue Crab catches and that includes the Chesapeake Bay.  The winter has been something that has been a question for Blue Crab abundance for over a century.
This is an excerpt from the United States Fish Commission Report – George Brown Goode.
Other Crabs, Calico and Green Crabs
History and Methods of the Fisheries Pg. 630-631- 1887
“The winter habits of the blue crab have never been carefully studied.  Cold weather drives the crabs away from the shores and into somewhat deeper water; while they are supposed to pass the winter without much activity or even partly buried in the soft, muddy or sandy bottoms.  A very severe winter kills many of them and after heavy winter storms, many dead ones are often be found thrown upon the beaches by the waves. After an unusually cold winter, crabs are less abundant then after a mild one.”
I seems as though these century old observations are relevant today.
All Blue Crab observations are important as we learn more about the Blue Crab in Southern New England.
The first catches of Jimmies –
The first catches of large blue crab jimmies occurred around the third week of June.  Look to those areas that have deep bends or holes for overwinter survivors.  Most of these late June catches have been males they prefer upriver areas, away from the strong storms of winter while the females prefer salty water – and unfortunately contact with predators.  The females over winter in deep saline pockets but many enter Long Island Sound and uncertain futures.  One of the features of these early summer crabs is a hard shell and yellow or rusty (brown) stains of older crabs.  They have very hard shells and make for some great eating steamed hot or cold salad.  Look for the best catches near deep river bends or salt ponds.  The long cold spring which at times broke records for snow fall and “ice on” days had blue crabs seek out the deeper (and slightly warmer holes) hibernation areas.  These areas are accessible by boat or personal watercraft and provided early catches of yellow face and rusty hard shell crabs.  Catches in these areas have been good but the open shore front catches remain very low.  The water temperatures in Central Connecticut, good in the high 70° but just few crabs. Many popular blue crab areas in 2012 remain empty.  The shallow areas are showing some 2-inch crabs, which could be a better fall for Connecticut blue crabbers, and those that crab from the shore.  Some recent observations:
Friday, August 3, Essex Town Dock- 2 hours, no crabs
Saturday, August 4, Oyster River – 2 hours, 1 crab
Monday, August 6, Essex Town Dock – 2 hours, 1 crab
Tuesday, August 7, Essex Town Dock – 1 hour, 2 crabs - At this date, the Essex water temperature was 80°.

Blue Crab Megalops –
The megalops set of course goes where the currents and winds take them, have no general mobility until they “set” or leave the plankton for the bottom.  At that point they become a crab and if the right habitats exist, can grow quickly – an early set matures before fall, (legal size) a late set can survive – a short winter.   A large megalops set occurred July 16th and July 20th – Milford to Branford Harbor and at first they looked like blue crabs, both closer inspections they resembled the Spider Crab Libinia emarginata or the invasive Asian shore crab Hemiprapsus sanguiness in “Howard Weiss keys to the larvae of Common Decapod Crustaceans” – mentioned in this newsletter; they look very similar.
Some blue crab megalops could be mixed in but it looks like we will know in a few weeks, as small blue crabs about an inch to two inches across will become common along the shore.

Other crabs –
Some questions have come up about Calico crabs, sand or lady crabs Ovalpes ocellatus – if they are edible and they are.  Some of the Rhode Island salt ponds have been thick with Calicos (Lady) crabs with claws about the size of blue crabs (Will Visel observation).  Not that is known about them, and plan to cook up some for a taste test.  I had some cooked in a red sauce years ago while attending the University of Rhode Island. They were part of the taste (broth) for the red sauce a familiar Mediterranean dish and a popular one with pasta.  Calico crabs have been prevalent at times with blue crabs but found in shallow sandy areas apart (no cover) 3 to 5 feet deep.  They use their coloring to blend into the sand, preferring to dig in deeper water.  They live in an area usually absent of blue crabs most of the time on sand and need salty water while the blue crab quite the opposite – it likes brackish almost fresh waters.  In all my trips on the CT River and visiting crabbers, Calico’s were rare.  I think it is its ability to hide which gives it an advantage in the open salt water, filled with predators; it also lives close the beach away from them, but subject to waves.  A strong sudden storm will have shorelines dotted with the shells of calicos driven up on the beach feasted on by seagulls.  A walk in these habitats will produce the greatest number of empty calico crabs amidst the wrack.  In central Connecticut empty calico shells are common at the high tide line – that is why.
Green crabs also are abundant but unlike in the North Sea grow only to a modest size here.  Although I saw some giant green crabs being harvested in Niantic River as food (see Megalops #35 posted on Sept 17, 2005 Blue Crabs forum™ Northeast Crabbing Resources and The Search for Megalops #3 June 1, 2016 on the Blue Crab Forum™.  These Niantic crabs were kept as food (crabmeat) after steaming overseas the green crab is edible and soft shell shedding boxes for them developed in the middle ages.  Venice, Italy today has an active green crab shedding industry providing soft shell green crabs for a high priced market.  Similar to blue crab shedding systems, crabbers catch the green crab looking for a sign of molting, called moleche and shedding “muta.”  Soft shell green crabs retail for about 30 dollars/lb.  Here they are considered invasive and a pest to shellfishers.  Green crabs love to eat soft clams – thick strong jaw like claws are no match for the soft shell clams Mya.  A quick pinch at the neck crushes the shell exposing its flesh to the crab.  Smaller soft shell clam seed about an inch long are consumed quickly by a green crab like butter.  These thin shells present little protection from the green crab and in aquaculture growth experiments in Maine green crabs were able to consume all seed clams at the surface (Brian Beal personal communication).  In England the green crab has several recipes and its still harvested in the channel area.  So I recently tried some and despite the small size and hard to pick the meat was very sweet.  Many efforts are now underway to develop recipes for the green crabs - a broth or chowder.  My small experiment in cooking green crabs yielded a broth with a very strong crab flavor, some fat and sediment.  For my taste it was strong – so I cleaned these cooked green crabs and reboiled the bodies (claws drop off almost immediately, legs stayed on) and the broth was sweet with a pleasant crab flavor.  If a recipe needed a sweet crab broth this would fine.  The meat was tasty and texture very similar to blue crab, again small bodies yielded about two tablespoons of crab meat – it was very good.
To pick out any green crabs unless they are the largest of sizes I saw being harvested in Niantic River several years ago, it just is too much effort, my view.  I am going to try to get some larger ones and try that.
The cleaning process is just the same as the blue crab with body sections very similar except the crab is much smaller.  I think some meat/bone separation might help and experiments at the University of Maine are looking at that right now with a Paoli One Step De-boner™ – and producing a crab pate paste.  The crab shell waste was always a great meal for my Rhode Island and Plymouth Rock red chickens who would run to finish off blue crab waste and perhaps a bait substitute for the capture of conch in our area.  All of New England’s Land Grant Universities are looking into the possible use of the green crab as food, bait or animal feed supplement. It has become more than an unwelcome visitor and seeks to change habitat relationships in profound ways.

A great crab dinner -
I just returned from a trip to the Island of Sheppey (Sheerness) off the mouth of Thames River, England.  A visit to see my sister Marnie and husband Colin was rewarded by a crab dinner – of a huge two-pound “cock” male brown crab – Cancer pagurus.
The crab can grow to 8 pounds and other carapace resembles a piecrust. It looks like a rock crab found in Long Island Sound but much larger with large black tipped claws.  They are sometimes called the edible or “piecrust crab” and can live for 30 years.  This crab was about 2 pounds, arrived cooked in the shell packed with delicious meat, it was a feast.  The visit to Whitstable southern wharf (Oyster/Shellfishing Center) was just starting a harbor with several hydraulic (venture lift) cockle dredge vessels which is a huge (clam) industry and why or blood-ark cockle has the same name here; they look very similar.  Very often, what was valued in Europe was valued here, but that did not happen for Cockles in Connecticut, which has the shell shape of a quahog little neck but the shell ridges of the bay scallop they never developed a fishery tasty but have a deep red color.  On the Whitstable southern wharf (some tremendous tide changes here – at low tide some vessels were “dry”) at a public pier a family was catching green crabs, some method here a small ring (hoop net) and a thick slice of bacon in the center.  These were used as fishing bait (but today released) small about the size we use as tautog bait.  Some black fishing trips off Madison, CT in the 1960s, dozens of green crabs were crushed and shells scattered over the water producing a rain of crab shells, raw meat legs to the bottom.  After 20 to 30 in minutes of this crab chum line we had little trouble catching large blackfish.  Apparently that was the use here but today the green crabs caught were released.  Whitstable is a shellfishing center – oysters, cockles and crabs on the coast.
The Island of Sheppey itself is quite beautiful-- green and surrounded by water (some of Sheerness is below sea level).  Marnie and Colin took my wife, Pamela and I for a boat tour of the whole island which included shore birds, offshore WWII gun placements and a seal colony.  It was a wonderful water tour.  We soon left the beautiful Isle of Sheppey with miles of meadows and striking coastline at the mouth of Thames River estuary to go the Thames River itself in the City of London.  It has been many years since my wife Pamela and I visited London and the improvement in the Thames River water quality was amazing, Gone were the logjams of grease, paper and floating plastic years ago replaced by public piers and a thriving river boat cruise ship, and tours, businesses.  The Thames River a frequent mention in many of my habitat history posts, as it suffered extreme heat and eutrophication in the 1850s – termed “The Great Stink” (1858) the hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg) smells almost drove Parliament to a new location, as the Thames River full of sewage, animal fats, farm wastes and street sludge turned black and created such a stench that is was surmised that these “four airs” carried disease such as cholera at that time which had a human skeleton cartoon rowing upon it (1858).   In 2018, it was a much cleaner Thames River (still brown which is natural Tannin residues) flowing toward the Isle of Sheppey now carried few “floatables.” Almost none!  We booked a ride on one of these tour boats (I counted no less than 40) for a ride up and down the Thames to view the original London and the river that has the same name that bisects Connecticut’s eastern towns including of course “New” London.  The Thames River is alive with these tours as thousands ride on waters a century ago were termed foul.  It was a great river tour and a much cleaner London waterfront but knowing the history of “The Great Stink” a tribute to those who helped clean up one of Europe most famous waterways.  To finish this trip several shows in the Soho “Theatre” district including one called “Pressure” regarding the weather forecasters before D-Day, which included a lengthy discussion about the Icelandic Low and the placement of high pressure off the coast of the Azores.  The movement and cycles of these systems was the play topic as we today call the “NAO” the North Atlantic Oscillation a frequent (if not almost constant) mention in many of my habitat history posts. 
A great trip with numerous ecology connections to fish and shellfish and the habitat/climate features that support them. If you ever get a chance to visit Sheerness, take it.

Good luck crabbing, see you at the docks.
BlueChip – Tim Visel 

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« Reply #1 on: August 08, 2018, 07:31:12 PM »

good read



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