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Author Topic: Megalops # 2 - 2019 Climate Patterns and Megalops Drift - April 2019  (Read 65 times)
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BlueChip
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« on: April 12, 2019, 10:27:35 AM »

Megalops # 2 - 2019
The Search for Megalops
“You Do Not Need to be a Scientist to Report”
April 2019
The Blue Crab Year in Review and What is Ahead?
Climate Patterns and Megalops Drift
Tim Visel – The Sound School

A Note From Tim Visel
Almost 2019 Blue Crab Season
With just a few days before the blue crab season opens in Connecticut on March 31st, the Essex town dock, the CT River water temperature was 41oF at 11:00pm, at 5:00pm the Oyster River water temperature in Old Saybrook Route 1 Bridge was 44oF.  On April 3rd, Steve Joseph, Sound School Aquaculture Technology educator, measured the water temperature at McNeil Dock at The Sound School in New Haven Harbor and it was 43oF.  The winter was cooler than usual with seawater temperatures dropping to 37oF, making it two degrees cooler than an average low and way above 27oF to 28oF needed for Long Island Sound to form sea ice, the slush that forms along the shore in the coldest of winters.  We were spared the worst of the negative NAO cold waves.  Farmers in Midwestern sections were not so fortunate.  The cold polar air trapped between the Rockies and the lower Appalachian Mountains sank far to the south, bringing bitter cold temperatures and heavy snows.  Between March 16th and 18th, just a few weeks ago, national news media outlets reported Midwestern farmers digging out snow covered cattle, saving as many cattle as they could.  Especially hard hit were cattle farms in South Dakota.  This can happen here and IMEP #69 posted on The Blue Crab ForumTM Hunting Thread on December 17, 2018 details the coldest winter here in Connecticut – A Cattle Catastrophe for CT in 1873.  It was then that the air winter temperature in Cheshire, CT, recorded by Philo S. Beers, sank to 30oF below 0oF for days.  Hundreds of head of cattle in CT died from this extreme cold and set up the importation of western Connecticut cattle that were infested with small ticks.  (Tick disease soon followed)
In all this past was neutral – cool, but it won’t devastate the remaining blue crabs nor will it help them by providing high 600F temperatures in May so that our megalops shows in July.  Instead, our blue crab megalops have been showing in late September to October about 60 days later.  It is still early to predict the temperatures on July 1st but we will keep track as it inches up this spring.
Hope the best for your 2019 Blue Crab Season!
All blue crab catch and habitat observations are important.
Blue Chip-

The 2018 Blue Crab season in the Northeast was snap shock back to the 1960s.  Blue Crabs were present in areas that held the heat – in some areas the 470F to 470F period was 160 days or more much beyond the food reserves of hibernating crabs.  We had a spring sulfide kill, ice covered bays allowed sulfide levels to rise – the sulfide “deadlines” long measured in coastal salt ponds and following blue crab and terrapins kills from it even some reports of the knobbed whelk were killed.  The Chesapeake Bay area reported some of the heaviest winter kill in decades – some sizes up to 40% kill. 
For several years our megalops blue crab set came late in the summer (most likely carried up from the south) as reproducing female crab populations once prevalent in Bridgeport and New Haven harbors suffered losses in 2013-2015.  Blue crabbers were not alone as they witnessed spider crabs and green crabs in areas once only the realm of the blue crab.  Our Connecticut DEEP (Marine fisheries) recorded the decline as well (Note I want to thank our Marine Fisheries staff at DEEP for producing these reports in a way that can be read and understood – frequently I find such reports so filled with terms and concepts difficult to understand – just the language at times needs one and or more reference guides to interpret – much thanks- my view).  In “A Study of Marine Recreational Fisheries in CT Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration F14 A FOO296 (F-54-R-B4) Annual Performance Report, March 1, 2014 – February 28, 2015 Jobs 7-8 Seine Survey.  Pg. 66 – Job #8 had this section. 
“Blue Crab Abundance continued to remain low in 2014 – 12 (Blue) crab from on all - time high in 2009 – 333 (blue crabs) Spider crab abundance was at a time series high in 2011 and increased slightly above the time series average in 2013 and 2014.” 
Blue crabbers have also noticed more spider crabs and even Rock or Jonah Crabs.  Their habitats clocks with cooler temperatures appear to now strengthen.  More and more blue crabbers here have seen Jonah Crabs along the Connecticut shore and on Long Island – New York.  In a much colder period Jonah and Rock crabs dominated the shallows of New Haven Harbor.  The blue crab was rarely surveyed in the late 1970’s.
The largest habitat reversal it seems in a century is occurring with the Blue Crab Megalops set.  This aspect is being monitored in Rhode Island and the lobster Megalops set being monitored in Maine and Massachusetts surveys both should tell us much about the next few years.  It is a habitat quality and quantity contest now – we just can watch and wait – that is all. 
I appreciate all blue crab observations and reports and respond to all emails at [email protected]
The storms since 2011 have swept away soft sapropel deposits – cleaned out the northern coves and replaced it with cleaned cultivated soils – we have a good quahog set in CT, in 25 to 35 feet of water along Connecticut’s coast.  The oyster sets continue to be good – healthy oyster populations are in the shallows – these local sets are good but not coast wide.  The oyster sets along the open shore exposed by low tides have perished in cold snaps.  The prevailing wind also deserves a review as the impact of the NAO – may now move surface waters with developing megalops off shore as what may have happened to heavy blue crab megalops sets in 2013 and 2014 (See Blue Crabs Setting Off Faulkners Island, Megalops #4 - The Blue Crab Forum™ Oct 9, 2014). 
Another source of a very valuable species prevalence surveys are ones conducted by the Utility companies as part of their permit requirements – they show over time the reversals in species especially New Haven Harbor reports.  The Niantic Bay region has a very valuable time series survey by the Millstone Laboratory.  These long-term reports help explain the influence of the NAO upon species prevalence in the areas so important to the young – the nursery habitats.  It is these same habitats that contain toxic sulfide in winter and higher ammonia levels in summer.
But cold water sulfides can eliminate all crabs and can kill most oxygen requiring organisms, but that can take decades.  Only a few marine fish over time can be found in this sulfide environment, except eels.  Eels hibernate in it (Blue crabs also in the surface layers) and have specialized skill cells that act to collect any oxygen in this typically poor oxygen source habitats.  Eelgrass/sapropel habitats also supported a terrapin fishery (historically) with a “turtle hook” and for eels in a spear fishery cut through then thick ice.  When Connecticut winter eel spear fishers cut holes in the ice they did so over “eelgrass” a habitat type good for them but few others.  (It is suspected that the winter purging of sulfide from these putrefied organic deposits may have kept serious predators such as Striped Bass away from this “smelly” compost).  So reports of dead terrapins and blue crabs occur when long winters allow such sulfide levels to rise and become lethal.  On Cape Cod salt ponds these sulfide events were termed winter kill but winter (cold) water did not kill most fish it was the sulfide that comes with it.  Reports of dead knobbed whelk are also a sign of a serious sulfide event (and why dredge reports from hydraulic clammers and dry dredge oyster fishers are so important in creating real time habitat profiles) as they are killed on the bottom.
Derek Perry of the Massachusetts Division of Marine fisheries provided information about a third inshore seine survey that also could provide some long term Blue Crab trends in Massachusetts.  It is the 39th Nantucket Sound Estuarine Winter flounder young of the year seine survey – was completed between June 18 and July 3, 2014 and records all species (Time surveys take about a year for results to be posted).
It will be interesting to compare all three surveys to the Narragansett Bay survey, which is the region’s longest and started in 1898 (See IMEP #52 and IMEP #53 on The Blue Crab Forum™ Fishing, Eeling and Oystering thread). 
Blue crabs megalops sets are now being monitored by the US Fish Wildlife Service in the Narrow River – once part of Rhode Island’s Blue Crab Capital (See Megalops Report #3, posted Nov. 2, 2015, The Blue Crab Forum™ Northeast Crabbing Resource thread).  If this trend continues it could signal the warm up in time to spawn only for limited inshore areas – harbors and rivers.  Historically cold and stormy periods saw off shore natural oyster beds shrink – as they did in the 1960s (Although the heat would bring heavy oyster sets in the 1890s – The New York side was barren of off shore oyster reefs as the prevailing winds carried the “spawn” back against the CT coast as oyster fisheries then believed).  Winds could change megalops drift if the spawn appeared early or late – wind direction impact at seasons is then magnified.
What is different, just as the 1870s sharp cold reversed the Menhaden fisheries that surged ahead, as they appeared in the 1880s.  Silversides a primary forage fish for stripers has suffered a decline now thought to being the removal of sapropel – that deep putrefied organic deposits when stirred forms sulfuric acid and low pH with low oxygen conditions are very deadly to them.  The absence of silver sides along CT coast is a concern.  Dr. Christopher J. Gobler of Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences give us clue to what may have happened to them – In a recent paper on ocean acidification on marine life in Long Island Sound silversides were most vulnerable to low oxygen and low pH.  Ice covered bays can set up these events – storms can send currents under the ice dislodging sapropel – that was reduced in summer heat (sulfate reduction) and cold water then creates a sulfuric acid wash as buried deposits once exposed takes all oxygen in a flash fire – sulfuric acid event – perhaps setting up a deadly acidic wash.  Dr. Gobler states that low oxygen/low pH silversides only had a 5% survival rate.   These conditions can cause rapid fish kills of pelagic species trapped by ice in a cover in winter as residents often report the smell of sulfide at first thawing.  This is also experienced while dredging as the Army Corps now terms sapropel as Actual Acidic Sulfate Soil or AASS.  When deep sapropel organic deposits are dredged up and re exposed to oxygen it creates a sulfuric acid wash deadly to larval forms.  (And why the dredging windows may need adjustment - my view) when exposing sapropel to oxygen creates sulfuric acid – just as a natural storm event – and we have had strong storms most recently. 
When farmers harvested sapropel as a marine organic terrestrial fertilizer they also noticed it created a “hurtful acidity” on land and cut in oyster shell in the south and lobster shell in the north to offset it (See IMEP #26: Connecticut Rivers Lead Sapropel Production 1850 – 1885, posted Sept. 29, 2014, The Blue Crab Forum™ Fishing, Eeling and Oystering Thread).  Some of the most extensive testing of sapropel fertilizer (marine mud) was conducted by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (New Haven) and the State of Maine Experiment Station at the turn of the century.  A sudden low pH event is highly toxic to silversides.
I had several Striped Bass fishers that contact me here at The Sound School about these sulfide deposits and multiple questions “where are the silversides” in many areas post 2014 they are at lower levels – they are correct in their observations – cold and storm filled winters may hold a key habitat factor in their decline.
This winter looks like a split one, very warm in the fall, and cooler and wetter in the remainder.  The storm track has now formed well to the west of Nantucket, drier and colder “drawn down” cool air as they pass should prevail after heavy rain – not extremely cold nor warm but look for continued increase of the Bay Scallop, they like it cold and a possible improvement in winter flounder recruitment.  A clean and sapropel fee environment is good for them both.
This past year 2018 is a watermark for the Connecticut Blue Crab, our 2011 crabs have reached or are reaching the end of their life cycle with few crabs to take their place – gone are the multiple waves of small crabs in 2010 and 2011 waves (called ocean schools in the historic records) of crabs moving at night, they have ceased.  What we have is the lobster equivalent of “ground keepers” those that have found areas of good habitats and remained in them “habitat” refuges in a cooling now possible hostile habitat environment. 
It will be interesting to see the results of Rhode Island Blue Crab Megalops survey and the Massachusetts Inshore Lobster Megalops Survey later this spring (2019).  As the last “reverse” occurred in the 1915 to 1931 period – Blue Crab New England Populations fell as lobster recruitment now improved in Long Island Sound we may have already experienced that – kelp cobble stone is so critical to lobster recruitment here – the smallest lobsters find cover under it.  Kelp cobble stone habitats do better in cold and storms.  (I noticed this while trapping small bait eels in the 1960s with metal close weave (hardware) traps.  Over cobbles stone/kelp were thousands of small lobsters).  The battle of the megalops is not over – a quick return to heat and few storms will be better for the blue crab, continued cold and strong storms setting up habitat conditions for slower growing lobsters.  But it looks like the northern areas already have a new player – the Jonah Crab look for the Jonah Crab Megalops to mix in and may even soon dominate the northern shallows.  Recreational crabbers there may find a very tasty companion and several states are now reporting catch increases (See Search for Megalops Report #3, June 1, 2016, posted on The Blue Crab Forum™).     
It is important for Blue Crabbers to remember that in 1998 MA, CT and RI survey indices all showed a significant bump in Blue Crab recruitment as Southern New England lobsters experienced a “die off.” What followed was the New England “Blue Crab Explosion” as lobster populations “failed” in southern New England.  Blue crabs did much better.
See you at the docks – catching crabs – in two weeks.
Blue Chip-

A Calm Winter?  A Look at 2019 and Beyond
When one looks for split winters the winter of 1957-1958 comes to mind, the first half of the winter was very warm, record warmth but by February New England was locked in better arctic cold, heavy snows and frequent gales.  It was devastating to structures along the shore what wasn’t swept away by waves was carried away by ice.  John Hammond on Cape Cod lost most of his oysters in Chatham Oyster Pond that year (personal communication, T. Visel) winter of 1957 – 1958.  Inlets that were closed were ripped open – others widened.  Many historical records mention this winter on Cape Cod and a low point for the blue crab.
A stable cool winter would not eliminate those few remaining pockets of blue crabs – in areas that held warm waters was not a problem this fall.  So I now predict a neutral habitat winter – it will not eliminate the Blue Crab but it won’t help the lobster that much as well.  It is habitat wise a time out – stable until now free of powerful storms, and free of extreme temperature swings.  (That could change however with a very cold spring.)
Some habitat changes are apparent - the sharp decline in Blue Crabs and a reported resurgence in “clean” shorts lobsters in eastern CT.  Lobsters held in the shore shallows until mid July, this year a chance of a very cold spring - following a very cool spring might reach to the Connecticut River in early spring.  It will be very interesting to see if the CT DEEP Trawl Survey will pick that up – the shallows, 15 feet or less, are so important habitat wise for small lobsters – small blue crabs as well.  What may unfold for us is now what megalops will prevail, a colder storm filled period from 1931 to 1972 saw habitat conditions for lobsters improve and blue crab habitat conditions (in heat) improve from 1972 until 2012.  We have in many respects ring side seats to a conflict that could last decades, a return to cold and storms with kelp cobblestone fields the lobsters win – hot (but not extremely hot) with clean and green eelgrass – blue crabs will prevail as they have before.  A long hot period could also bring back sapropel – the blue black organic compost that sheds ammonia and sulfides but for now colder water favors the “good bacteria” and nitrate to food good algal food for shellfish (See The Blue Crab ForumTM Environment and Conservation Post #8: National Nitrogen Bacteria Filter Systems, posted Oct. 30, 2015) and with colder water perhaps broke the sulfur cycle. 
As colder water contains more oxygen – the oxygen reducing bacteria will consume the sugars (glucose) locked up in dead seaweed, organic matter and leaves.  This process will be free of the habitat destroying sulfate reducing bacteria, now linked to enormous increases in ammonia levels in heat (HABs), and the sulfide fish kills in cold.  It is the ammonia that feeds many species of brown harmful algal species that happen in high heat and high ammonia.  This combination was deadly to bay scallops, which without nitrate, algae now “starved” even surrounded by “brown” algae that held little nutrition for them.
The amount of information now about glucose metabolism in the bacterial sulfate reduction process and researchers across the globe are targeting eelgrass as an unfortunate accomplice in this “habitat war” a conflict between oxygen and sulfur as old as time itself.  Some of the first research published about glucose metabolism in intertidal marine sediments came from the United States.  The Darling Marine Center University of Maine “Glucose Uptake And End Product Formation In An Intertidal Marine Sediment – TE Sawyer and GM King – as published in Applied and Environmental – Microbiology – Jan. 1993, pg. 120-128.  This is a very difficult paper to read but perhaps the most important factor was glucose use was rapid in an oxygen environment – this food energy source did not hang around long – the found that “pore water (soil) glucose turnover (use) times ranging from about 2 to 10 minutes.  (To put it simply the cookies did not last long in the cookie jar).
Take away the oxygen and then glucose metabolism goes another reduction route using sulfate –and the slow reduction by products of this sulfur/bacteria pathway deadly to marine life.  (Glucose turnover was much slower)
Eelgrass which traps organic matter in its root fields is often the source of deadly sulfur compounds.  As eelgrass meadows rise they seal organics below from oxygen and some of the highest levels of toxic sulfides are found under them.  In 1997 Marianne Holmer and Soren Laurentius Nielsen of Denmark released their study titled “Sediment Sulfur Dynamics Related To Bio Mass – Density Patterns in Zostera Marine (eelgrass) Beds” Marine Ecology Progress Series Vol 146:163-171 1997 found that sulfate reduction “rates were 5 times as high at dense (growth) stations than at bare sites.”  An earlier paper in a related eelgrass species “Sulphate Reduction In The Root Zone Of The Seagrass Zostera noltii On The Intertidal Flats Of A Coastal Lagoon (Arcachan, France) Mai Fauschou Isaksen, Kai Finter also of Denmark – Marine Ecology Progress Series Vol 137 pages 187-194, 1996 found that “the presence of Zostera noltii obviously had a stimulating effect on the rates of sulphate reduction – the rates in the 0 to 4 cm layer with roots were about twice as high as in sediments free of plant cover.”  In 2006 Marianne Holmer Ole Pedersen and Kou Ikejima (Thailand) published a paper in Botanica Marina – 2006, pgs. 91 to 102 titled “Sulfur Cycling and Sulfide Intrusion In Mixed Southeast Asia Tropical Seagrasses Meadows” found both a root tissue density and temperature relationship” in heat root damage from sulfur reactions increased – it in effect helped kill eelgrass.
Eelgrass had the ability to use sulfate reduction to its advantage – stripping a nutrient source from sulfur reducing bacteria and had developed the ability to withstand sulfide toxicity to its root tissue – up to a point.  This enables eelgrass to scavenge scare nutrients in tropical marine soils – but in temperature climates the sulfides get so high it destroys the roots – even though it can utilize special root tissue cells to bring oxygen to shield it roots for a while from sulfide damage.  This aspect allows eelgrass to live in soils that would kill other plants – giving eelgrass a huge habitat edge preventing sulfide tissue rot – or root necropsy – bacterial (Vibrio) flesh destroying impacts longer that other submerged grasses.  In high heat high organic loading turns eelgrass meadows into natures sulfur killing fields as shellfishers knew a century ago.  Some of the most negative habitat successional aspects of eelgrass meadows can be found in Massachusetts – reports by Dr. David Belding in the 1900s and many Massachusetts shellfish and finfish – fish and habitat bulletins of the 1960s (See Quahoggers Make Final Stand Against Eelgrass – The Blue Crab ForumTM, IMEP #30, posted October 9, 2014).   
(Thanks to Bruce Carlisle of the Mass Coastal Zone Management Office for making the entire 1950s- 1970’s Massachusetts Bulletin Series available).  The eelgrass meadows that had come back (some areas were so changed by the 1930s and 1950s hurricanes it was not possible to have it do so – habitat characteristics had so greatly changed) in the 1990s following the heat/sulfide die offs of the 1980s (See The Cycle of Eelgrass, Parts 1 and 2, The Blue Crab Forum™) were cleaned – some destroyed by the Hurricanes and Northeasters’ after 2011.  In areas that held sapropel below them have now been exposed to oxygen – and storm waves that oxygen bacteria need for glucose oxygen metabolism has perhaps speeded up by the cold.   Some Cape Cod fishers who attended my inshore fishing workshops then reported that in the 1950’s storms had opened some salt pond inlets – and once that happened allowing colder oxygen water in sapropel (black mayonnaise) a blue black organic greasy deposit then melted like melting snow – sometimes over a few years several feet until it reached “the black sands” (See Bill Bauknecht, IMEP #68, Green Pond Falmouth Massachusetts accounts).  I heard similar statements from shellfishers many times – so we may see that happen again if it remains cooler Connecticut’s coastal bays and coves if continued the cold and energy should halt any accumulating sapropel deposits – and if it remains cool, sapropel will be eaten up – literally by the much faster glucose oxygen bacteria – a return to heat would favor the sulfur reducing bacteria (much slower) (and sapropel would now build up again).  Sapropel once gone and marine soils free of any sulfur acids could in time support new eelgrass growths with the eelgrass so helpful at the beginning of its habitat successional period to the blue crab megalops but at the end with sulfide so deadly. 
A quick series of storm have already recultivated deeper marine soils and we now have a 25 to 35 foot deep set of quahogs along Connecticut’s shore.  After the 1938 to 1950s storms for example the Madison, CT quahogs beds grew to enormous size out to 35 feet of water.  By the time I started lobstering (late 1960s) they had almost died out – left behind was great huge clams “blunts” and were aged in 1985 to be around 50 years but some shells were nearly an inch thick (almost fossil like) among the hundreds of thousands dead quahogs that already had perished, giving the appearance that this had happened before.  Shells from a hydraulic dredge survey came to the surface filled with dead shell and very few live adults were found (Frank Dolan, Madison clam trips, 1970s).
We have also seen the return of our bay scallops as another habitat sign – big bay scallops with clean shells are signs of clear clean bottoms so often mentioned by Niantic Bay Scallopers whom it met while also doing some workshops in the area (1980s) – and were most helpful with one of my most popular series, Environmental Conservation posts bacteria and nitrogen series.  The larger Niantic bay scallops first came from deeper waters offshore, harvested by hand hauled dredges.
We could give nature a boost, so fishers started bringing seed scallops into Niantic Bay – by the thousands in the 1920s (See Niantic Bay Scallop Seed Transplant account, IMEP #7, posted on February 25, 2014).  Hatchery seed is one of the few ways we can help produce seafood – if the habitat grow out conditions are favorable.
Lobsters and Blue Crabs
So which megalops will win?  Only time now will tell, the conflict between hot and cold, stormy or “quiet” and oxygen bacteria or sulfur reducing bacteria, could last for decades – at least know we know the players in a game that could last for years.   One of the first signs of habitat change would be the presence of small lobsters living in the shallows.  Lower water temperatures have already been reported and some early reports indicate an increase of small lobsters living in Eastern CT small lobsters – again.  Some ventless lobster trap surveys (with proper permits) could provide information on early lobster recruitment.  A return to shallow kelp beds killed by high heat would also be a positive sign.
Vibrio and Killer Muds – A Climate Signal?
At times, individual efforts were attempted at lobster culture and in 1887 – the Maine Legislature had granted R.I. Carver the sole right to culture lobsters in Carvers Pond in Vinalhaven - Mr. Carver’s experiment was a failure as he says “the mud in the pond was so filthy nearly all the spawn was killed.”  This leaves little doubt about the rise of sapropel – a habitat type that builds in heat and low circulation – the putrid muds, black mayonnaise or today sapropel – which in heat “stinks.”  Long periods of cold and storms can eliminate sapropel deposits.  This organic buildup on the bottom of lobster pounds operations along the coast of Maine fueled controversy, to feed or not to feed.  Colder waters often solved this concern.
Now We Wait – Blue Crab or Lobster?
“When the tide goes out we will see who is wearing a full suit” – that or something close to it was one said by a lobster pound operator in the 1920’s (to feed or not to winter feed).  The tide is going out for the blue crab.  I don’t think we will see Blue Crabs feeding in the CT River in April (as we did a few years ago).  In 2015, only 3 crabs were caught at the Essex Town Dock – to my knowledge.  Certainly the southern blue crab populations have fared much better than New England’s but nearly everyone agrees we are on the northern edge of the blue crab range – in times of great heat we do better - in cold worse.  We can’t bring some of the turn of the century and blue crab researchers, A. Mead, Bumpus, Field or Barnes back to the fishery management table and show them a century of climate change – but we can read their observations.  A sudden and intense heat would warm New England streams and bays, ruining trout and lobster habitats in the south as in the 1890s.  They were also surprised by the up turn in blue crabs – it was Ernest Barnes who wrote about the rapidly expanding soft shell crab industry of Rhode Island in 1904, or a colleague Walter E. Sullivan who penned a special Bulletin titled “Notes on The Crabs Found in Narragansett Bay in 1909” – opening his report (Thirty Fourth Annual Report of the Rhode Island Commissioners of Inland fisheries) with this statement:
“The crabs have long been objects of observations, but much relating to their life history is yet unknown.  This paper is introducing to a study of some of the common crabs in Rhode Island.  Such a study seems warranted not only because of the scientific interest involved, but also on account of their increasing commercial value.”
This report would also detail a special megalops section with a short guide on how to distinguish between species.  Lobsters were in trouble in southern New England while blue crabs seemed to be doing better than ever in the 1900s.  I think those crustacean researchers who helped develop and operate the world’s largest lobster hatchery system Wickford, Rhode Island in the early 1900’s then would be amazed at both the return of cold and the lobster and the retreat of the blue crab into a few areas of habitat refugia, the salt ponds in the 1960s and later only to reverse again 1972-2012.

By the 1950’s, seawater temperatures had already gotten colder and the cost of now heating sea water for the northern lobster hatcheries became enormous – the questions then was about cost – not the need?  The larger issue in the room was missed – that when they began to operate (lobster hatcheries) a half century before – warm winter waters was the topic not cold.  By 1914 the “warm waters” had finally reached the Canadian Maritimes, which pleased some fishery managers then with the high temperatures (helped oysters) but concerned about the trend.  The truth of the matter was when a habitat failure occurred in the shallows for lobsters the waters were so warm then – no heating was required to run northern hatcheries – That was missed from the discussion in the 1950s (it is suspected that sulfate reduction from high heat glucose metabolism (sulfur reducing bacteria digestion) of organic matter had eliminated much the southern New England inshore stage 4 lobster habitats.  Decades of high heat and little energy (storms) had transformed thousands acres of lobster important kelp cobblestone, to eelgrass meadows which grew to enormous densities and habitat cover – better for blue crabs than lobster megalops in heat.  Later on the heat intensified eelgrass meadows shed sulfides and hot temperatures favored the blue crab megalops and adult survival better than lobster adults or megalops.  When the storms of the 1930s – 1940s and 1950s arrived they swept away the eelgrass meadows built in the heat of 1880 to 1920 and restored the kelp/cobblestone habitat so critical in Long Island Sound for lobsters.  It became cooler and seawater temperatures dropped for a brief period, 1963 to 1965 Long Island Sound would freeze out to the center.  Lobster catches in Connecticut then increased.

Lobsters in Time Recovered
That climate perspective of often missed unless we examine longer periods of time.  That is why the hundreds of reports written by this turn of the century lobster hatchery effort should be made available to the public – and compared to climate records and catch statistics.  Long time period reports should issued so blue crabbers and lobster fishers can read them (my view).  The real question about the cost of operating these lobster hatcheries in the 1950s was not the price of fuel oil – their expense (Mike Brown’s The Great Lobster chase has a great segment about this on page 92 of his 1985 book) but the need to heat the water at all.  In a half century climate conditions had greatly changed the Atlantic Oscillation from John Hammond (today called the Northeast Atlantic Oscillation had turned negative, allowing cold polar air (The Polar Vortex would be named in 1954) to sink south and create a hot/cold dynamic that increased both the number of hurricanes and storm severity.  Habitats greatly improved for lobsters – blue crab fisheries in northern waters collapsed.  We often miss these climate factors – because they take so long to unfold, it’s not instant but habitat conditions change over time as well.  Fishers know this as they consistently report and talk about these “cycles.”
I can recall talking to members of the Wilcox family who operated Wilcox Marine Supply in the Quiambaug Cove section of Mystic, Connecticut that at the turn of the century lobsters would die before trains reached New York City – lobsters had a red or black streak on their tails.  Suspected of gaffkemia infection, lobsters were weak in shallows and healthy caught in deeper cooler waters but those carried up in the shallows soon died, especially those on the bottom in pools or turtle pens.  (Some marshes were dug out to hold terrapins and snappers – 3 days to allow digestion tracks to clear and then shipped – mostly to New York.  Lobsters were held also at times, all died - Jeff Wilcox, personal communication – T. Visel).  (In these enclosures, which some still can be seen in New England marshes, the black bottoms would absorb heat – I suspect some of them could easily reach 100oF or more).  (See IMEP #42, posted January 16, 2015, for a description of Wilcox Cove)
Lobsters kept on the bottom – died only those now in “floating cars” lived so in time lobster cars that floated lobsters seemed to be much better then pounds.  Although fresh sets or fresh water was often blamed for these bottom mortalities I suspect it was sulfide toxicity from sulfate reduction of sapropel – and toxic sulfide/ammonia purging from it.  I also suspect that the gradual warming then to extreme heat gave rise to sapropel a blue/black organic composts along our coast that in time became deadly to lobster megalops – At least one individual (lobster culture effort in Marine) would rise this sapropel question more than a century ago.  In John N. Cobb of the United States Fish Commission – US Fish Commission Bulletin of 1899 pgs 241 to 265 – 1900 “The Lobster Fishery of Maine” mentions that aspect in 1887 the Maine legislative granted “RI Carver the sole right to culture lobsters in Carvers Pond, Vinalhaven – Mr. Carver’s lobster culture (Aquaculture) experiment was a failure and is quoted as saying “The mud in the pond was so filthy nearly all the spawn (lobsters) was killed.”  But his was also a time of extreme heat, ideal conditions for sulfate bacteria.  We really don’t have an equivalent today for “filthy mud” but the smell is a key factor that something was filthy; in heat, it frequently had an offensive odor.
The leaves little doubt that Mr. Carver was battling sapropel – putrified organic matter in low oxygen conditions – later mentioned as black water deaths.  Sapropel builds up in times of heat; high organic matter input and low oxygen conditions are deadly to many marine organisms.  It is organic compost and once harvested in Maine and other coastal states as dressing hay field fertilizer (See IMEP #26) for hay fields and salt marshes the farmers soon realized the need to offset sulfuric acid with oyster or lobster shell.  As this organic matter putrefies it becomes “greasy” or waxy – a blueish-black mud in the 1980s fishers called black mayonnaise but is properly termed sapropel – it also sheds ammonia when hot, a nutrient source for Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). 
Sapropel is now linked to winter flounder and crab/lobster shell disease in lobsters (vibrio) but lobster fishers have known about these deadly bacterial films for decades and decades it seems before most fishery managers.  Lobster pound operations noticed sapropel and some pounds severed heavy mortalities in hot weather – when sulfate reduction would have been highest.  Red tail become noticeable in northern waters in July 1946 (Revere Beach is Crowded, Heat Wave, July 20, 1946 – Massachusetts, The Boston Globe) (Redtail Lobster Disease CT, 1931) (Rosenfield, Sindermann 1967).  Gaffkemia was isolated from mud of tidal ponds and nearby waters.  The Weather Bureau was established in the Dept. of Agriculture in 1890 (previous to this time US Dept of War signal division) and the 1890’s became very hot.  And with the heat it seemed came bacterial disease.  Lobster ponds in relatively shallow water would show the “heat” first – lobsters died.
By the 1960’s it was standard practice to keep lobster pounds clean (to prevent sapropel) which including raking up all residue bait, even removing dead seaweed – followed by disinfestation then with drums of chlorine pellets – sometimes twice a season if red tail was found (About Lobsters, T. M. Prudden, pg. 111, 1962).
What these lobster researchers could not have known was bacteria would largely decide habitat quality, and temperature habitat quantity for either blue crab or lobster megalops.  The loss of the shallow water habitat for lobster megalops in southern New England was from high heat and organic matter reduction – not pollution or overfishing as is often suspected.  I have great respect for Francis H. Herrick, The Natural History of the American Lobster (1909) but he wrote during this extreme hot climate cycle – he did not realize the impact of sapropel – what intense heat would do to lobster habitat quality.  He also it seems took climate cycles out of the question – limiting lobster management solutions only to a regulatory response.  (This was a common practice however) this was not correct especially taking into that we know today about sulfate reduction in high heat (See Environment and Conservation #7: Salt Marshes A Climate Change Battlefield, posted September 10, 2015 on The Blue Crab ForumTM).
The US Fish Commission Bulletin for 1897 (as reported by John N. Cobb), The Lobster Fishery of Maine also US Fish Commissioners, The Lobster Fishery of Maine quotes Herrick’s bulletin of 1890: “The fishery is declining and this decline is due to the persistence with which it has been noted during the last twenty-five years (overfishing).”  There is no evidence that the animal is being driven to the wall by any new or unusual disturbance of the forces of nature” – except it was very much so as Herrick missed it and with the miss continued the notion (bias) that we are the masters of nature and by extension its fisheries and therefore its fisheries habitats – except that we are neither fully masters of its habitats nor its natural populations.  We are most likely the person who pushes a hopelessly stuck car on a beach, we can spin the tires- to an observer lots of sand is spun around shaking and spinning but the car does not more.  The person who pushed at least tried – that is all.
It is curious now that Herrick would take that “force of nature option” off the table – an obvious bias now as we know about the horrific impacts of sulfate reduction – organic matter in high heat – in eelgrass meadows mentioned worldwide.  It certainly had caught the attention of trout fisheries (heat) the forty third Annual Report of the Commissioners of Inland Fisheries – Rhode Island 1915 (1914 reporting year) has this comment:
“The brown trout, also known as the Von Behr trout or German trout, is the common trout of Europe and its said to have been introduced into this country from Germany as early as 1883.  Since this time it has become well established in many states,” (and then “why” to import them to New England and climate/habitat becomes clear).
“Although it thrives in clear, cold, rapid streams, it readily adapts itself to a much higher temperature than our Brook Trout” (but then blames warmer trout stream temperature and drought on “us” continuing) and it is therefore our belief that it will be a good addition to such streams as were formerly excellent trout streams, but have become low and warm through deforestation” and later, “it is not improbable that in those places where brook trout seems to have been driven out by the brown trout, changing conditions, such as warmer water and absence of shade, have rendered the streams unfit for the common form.” 
The common form of course was the brook trout which needed colder waters to survive – Brown trout simply could exist better at higher temperatures – there was no driving out by brown trout, in hot New England streams they could still live – while native brook trout here in the heat could not – that is all.
With climate change the traditional fisheries management policies just do not really apply – if reproductive success is impossible, more reproduction capacity will not help?  The lobster fishers of the 1990s were just as helpless as those in the 1890s – although lobster restrictions were enacted between 1898 and 1905 they were overall of little help to the lobster fishery.  Some were even later repealed.  The inshore lobster habitat had failed and lobsters retreated into any cooler waters for a time with continued heat until they disappeared as well.  Researchers at the time did not have access to long-term climate records.  The Weather Bureau created in 1890 and housed in the Dept. of Agriculture was only 5 years old and some years before it would be later transferred to NOAA (1970). 
Dr. Herrick had no long-term climate records to consult because there was none.  From a review of the trout and lobster researchers they did not share habitat observations.  By 1895 trout managers had called for German trout imports (Brown Trout) in response to a habitat failure for brook trout in New England trout streams the US Fish Commission and built trout hatcheries.  What became a massive habitat failure for southern New England Lobster fisheries was yet to happen.  Sulfate reduction in seawater habitats and glucose metabolism of organic matter in fresh water soon produced low oxygen conditions and the rise of sapropel.  When Dr. Herrick wrote his bulletin on lobsters Kolkwitz and Marrson had yet to publish their paper on the Saprobien System “organic wellness” (1909).  That system was in response to excessive heat that cooked organic matter in European streams which had started a half century before in England known as “the great stink” (1860s) when the Thames River filled with organic matter putrified so badly it gave rise to a vector of disease the maisma theory that would finally be broken by the germ theory in 1901 when milk disease was traced to bacteria contamination (Environmental and Conservation post #6, posted July 23, 2015).  Bacteria would also claim the lobster habitat shallows – sulfur reducing bacteria feasted on organics and purged sulfides and ammonia.  High ammonia levels fed red tide so severe that crabs and lobsters crawled from the water in 1898 from Narragansett Bay – A. C. Mead wrote that up as “a plague that had befallen on the State of Rhode Island” they experienced a red tide but the plague was then excessive heat that would impact cold water species on land (Inland Fish Commissions came first) as the fresh water systems warmed first and marine divisions came later, much created by the collapse of the lobster fishery and then other marine species, smelt, herring and shad from heat – not over fishing.
Did Herrick miss the heat, the lobster 1898 die off was just a few months away after the US fish Commission Bulletin of 1897 but signs were well known of greater heat in Long Island Sound.  The bulletin by John Cobb (1901) mentions this directly:
“Even before the lobster fishery had been taken up to any extent, the coast of Maine was visited by well smacks from Connecticut and New York.  In the summer great numbers of them (lobsters) were killed by the heat in the hold.”  And -
The first steamer with a well Noank vessel- “The steam and well smack Grace Morgan was built in 1890 by Robert Palmer and son of Noank Conn.  At that time, she was a dry boat, but the following year 1891 built a small well (live well) in her as an experiment but I am of the opinion that it did not prove very satisfactory profitable, consequently they offered her for sale and wrote to me in relation to buying her Mr. F U. Collins a lobster dealer of Rockland Maine.” 
By 1891 The Noank lobstering fishing industry was in “ruins.”  Others that had “wet well smacks” installed ice pens and sealed the hull if they could.
The founding father of our United States Fishery Commission researcher Spencer Baird passed away in 1887 but ten years earlier eerily speaks to the same questions before us today as it nature or is it us?  Speaking before an International Commission held at Halifax in 1877 (Galtsoff, 1962, pg. 55).  Baird’s speech includes these segments:
“The status of fish in the sea is very largely determined by the question of temperature.  That fish of many varieties have decreased greatly in abundance with the historic period in parts of the world is well established, the reduction in some cases being truly enormous.  On the other hand, there is no reason to suppose that the cod, mackerel, blue fish and sea herring have been reduced essentially if at all, in numbers, the stock of fisheries being from year to year about the same, and an apparent diminution in one region being balance by a greater supply in another.  The causes of this variation in abundance so far as they can be detected many be considered under two heads.  First the natural or uncontrollable, and second, the artificial, or those connected with the interference of man.  Where the former alone are responsible there may be a hope of a return to original abundance.  Man’s influence acts persistently and with increasing effect throughout long continued years.”
The problem with Herrick’s Bulletin (and many others during this period) is that temperature didn’t even get a look?
If anything is certain about the 1898-1905 lobster dieoff, Maine lost likely the shallows but had cooler off shore waters that still held viable megalops and a productive fishery.  In CT losing the shallows to sulfate reduction meant everything for the lobsters.  There was no cooler refugia for a retreat nor any spared from an increase in predators Long Island Sound to deeper areas and thus slower to “heat up”.  When Theodore Roosevelt visited the Cuttyhunk Striped Bass fishing club he used lobsters as a bait.  Perhaps the Striped Bass became used to lobsters on the move.
The warming had already been noticed in Rhode Island fisheries statistics – in 1898, pg. 366, Report of the Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries (1898) is found this section.  Printed in 1901 Fisheries of Rhode Island, for the blue crab:
“The fishery for hard and soft shell crabs is carried on by several persons to a limited extent in Narrow River between Wickford and Narragansett Pier, the season being from the middle of June to the last of August.  Soft crabs were more valuable, the price received in 1898 being $1 a dozen, with the hard crabs brought only about 25 cents per dozen.  The catch of hard and soft crabs was 12,895 pounds valued at $2,250.”
The Enigma behind America’s Freak 20 Years – Lobster Boom – Gwynn Guilford 2015
I would like the Atlantic States Marine Fishing Commission report on lobsters to include the impact of raising the gauge having raised series questions about lobster hatchery carrying capacity in 2008-2009.  I anticipated a large section on the once large New England’s once vast network of lobster hatcheries dozens of books and suggested reports (many containing important fisher habitat observations) be made available then.  Cross referenced with other species observations reports of USDA climatologist, catch statistics for the last century, climate impacts and catches were easy to see.  But I was disappointed, it focused upon biology and regulation, and mention of lobster hatcheries that once provided the fishery with millions of fry and stage four lobsters by passing a horrific attrition for a half century received only “a few words.”  Larger lobsters in shallow waters have a huge influence upon small lobster capacity – my view.
I have since suggested to the lobster advisory board – take two to four years make the New England lobster hatchery records all public – review the climate parameters and regulatory responses to them a century ago.  Let the present lobster fisheries read about this period and we will know much more about what habitat conditions existed and how hatcheries helped.  Lobsters later rebounded in cold and what triggered the increase in New England Blue Crabs was heat in 1898 and 1998 as well.
It is too soon to tell who will be wearing “the full suit” a saying referring to draining lobster pounds in Maine to check for ice kills when the tide receeds, we need long-term efforts but between 1790 and 1812, it appears lobsters were scarce in New England, again in 1878 to 1912 and once more 1998 to 2015.  Cooler temperatures if we look to past cycles will favor the kelp/cobblestone and those small lobsters we be seen here first in eastern CT on the beaches living in them.  That I believe will be the first climate signal (my view - Tim Visel).

Appendix #1
Species Change in Warm Water Impacts to Cool Water Species
CONNECTICUT STATE BOARD OF FISHERIES AND GAME
JUNE 1962
 
Hammonasset River

The Hammonasset River, rising in the town of Durham, is obstructed by a large dam creating the Hammonasset Reservoir at Route 80 in the towns of Madison and Killingworth.  This reservoir is owned by the New Haven Water Company.  Below the dam, the Hammonasset River has a history of populations of shad, alewives, white perch, striped bass, tomcod, and sea-run brown trout.  There is one small barrier below the Hammonasset Reservoir; the abandoned dam at the old Paper Mill Pond site has practically disappeared, and no longer impounds water.
Fairly intensive study of this stream system in connection with the sea-run brown trout investigation has indicated that the new Hammonasset Reservoir has contributed to the deterioration of water quality through warming and irregular flows.  These factors, plus the establishment of a warm-water fish population in the reservoir which, in turn, has encroached upon stream habitat, have eliminated evidence of natural populations of trout.  The only recommendations that can be made regarding this system would be to assure for constant flows out of the reservoir and to eliminate the remnants of the abandoned dam at the old Paper Mill site.  Some blasting could improve conditions for fish passage at this abandoned dam site and thus open up an additional five miles of stream for brown trout and shad.
 
 
*Rekeyed by Angela Lomanto for The Sound School

Appendix #2

Temperature and Energy Impacts
The American Lobster
A Study of its Habitats and Development
Francis Hobart Herrick
Professor of Biology In Adelbert College
Of Western Reserve University
Washington Government Printing Office 1895

“Lobsters are also sometimes driven a shore by severe storms on the beach, where they perish in great numbers.  In March 1888, thousands of lobsters were washed ashore on the south side of Martha’s Vineyard during a south and southwest gale  (pg. 16).  In time, this storm would be known as the blizzard of 1888 or in older reports The Great White Hurricane March 11 to March 14, 1888.  “The large floating cars in which lobsters are generally stored alive, in readiness for market are always kept closed.  When they are particularly shallow and the lobsters are exposed to the glare of the sun they always suffer and sometimes die in consequences.”
(I don’t think it was the sunglare that killed these lobsters but the heat of the shallows, low oxygen and sulfides – Tim Visel).

Appendix #3
The Lobster Fishery – A Special Report including Suggestions for Uniform Laws
Made To the Legislature of Massachusetts by
The Commissioners on Fisheries and Game, 1911

Comments made by R.F. Conwell during the Lobster Convention, Boston, Massachusetts- September, 1903 (Cape Cod)
“Our lobster fishermen claim they catch no short lobsters on account of the size of the traps (large rings and wide distance between the slats (lath – Tim Visel). Last year the lobster fishery on Cape Cod never was better.  This year (1903 – Tim Visel).
This has been an off year owing to the abundance of crabs, which come in and covered up the bait in the pots.”


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