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Author Topic: Megalops #2 - The Search for Megalops -Sept 10, 2020  (Read 576 times)
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« on: September 10, 2020, 12:30:23 PM »

Megalops #2 – The Search for Megalops
“You Don’t Need To Be A Scientist To Report”
The 2020 Blue Crab Season
View All Megalops Reports on the Blue Crab Forum™,
Northeast Crabbing Resources Thread
June 15, 2020
--This is a Delayed Report--
The Sound School, New Haven, Connecticut

•   A Note from Tim Visel
•   Snow in May?
•   Rivers Hold Last Blue Crabs
•   The Winter Hibernation Compost
•   Follow the “Ice” Fish - The Rise Of Smelt
•   Blue Crabs and Acid Rivers
•   The Ventless Lobster Trap Proposal

A Note from Tim Visel
It was Andrew Bonetti of our Sound School support staff that provided me with the first indications that a megalops set that was recorded last August (Megalops #7 Small Crabs Surge Along the Connecticut Coast, posted August 16th) had survived in rivers. Andrew's report was for the lower Housatonic River; he reported many one to two-inch crabs were observed, and a cool winter did not kill them. Our temperatures were very cool in November and December yet moderated as the winter proceeded - often on the warm side of Hudson Bay low's. The water temperatures here caught up to those of last year, Steve Joseph, senior aquaculture teacher on June 6th 2012 reported 72   ̊F   (Special Report #1 Blue Crab Set Now Possible, posted May 16, 2019), and June 4, 2019, 64   ̊F  Megalops Report #5 , July 25th, 2019 and May 30th at 62  ̊F. 

Thanks to Jayleen Disla, the water temperature taken at the Sound School fishing pier on May 26, 2020 at 59  ̊F an four days later, Jayleen reported 62 ̊F.  Water temps are now climbing quickly. Last summer with southerly winds intense air temperatures inshore shallow waters could reach into the 80s even into the low 90s on creek banks at low tide. These temperatures are deadly to lobster megalops but not to the blue crab. The pronounced warmup of Long Island Sound two decades ago is noted by these measurements:
1996 18.5  ̊C or 65.3  ̊ F
1997 18.75 ̊C or 65.75 ̊F     
1998 19.25 ̊C  or 66.7  ̊F     
1999 23.5  ̊C   or 74  F - 72  ̊F and above is considered dangerous for lobsters

Since lobsters are on the bottom it is generally accepted that 72  ̊F  is the thermal barrier die-off for lobsters. But the warmer water helped the blue crab. The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk CT trawl net data provided by Joseph Schierlein survey data (See IMEP 72-B posted August 16th, 2019) shows this increase to 2010.

1998       0 Blue Crabs surveyed
1999       10 Blue Crabs surveyed
2000     183 Blue Crabs surveyed
2010      502 Blue Crabs surveyed
Crabbers may recall the blue crab seasons a decade ago had blue crabs moving at night in waves along the shore after leaving the Housatonic River.
Our Connecticut DEEP marine fisheries data also shows this rapid buildup of blue crabs table 8.3 job 8 estuary and Seine survey from CT DEEP. These inshore seine surveys provide critical fish / habitat information as the shallows heat and cool the fastest
Table 8.3 Job 8 Estuary and Seine Survey Connecticut DEEP
2008   4    Blue Crabs recorded
2009  333    Blue Crabs recorded
2010  85    Blue Crabs recorded
2011  23    Blue Crabs recorded
2014  17    Blue Crabs recorded

Steve Joseph, our senior aquaculture chemistry teacher has kept temperature records since 2012. These are his reports for surface water temperatures this spring (2020) starting with the megalops report on March 29th - Pine Orchard, Branford.

March 29    44   ̊F  with crab hatch observed on this date
April 17      48  ̊ F     
April 20      49  ̊F     
April 24      47  ̊F     
April 30      50  ̊F     
May 16       56  ̊F     
May 17       56  ̊F     
May 18       58  ̊F     
May 21       62  ̊F     
May 22       62  ̊F   
May 25      59  ̊F     

Around the middle of April came the first reports from winter flounder fishers that had large adult blue crabs attacking sandworms on hooks. This causes me to feel we may have a  large population over wintering in Long Island Sound.
A mild winter did not reduce crabs in rivers as ice did not form. Look for adults to be in deep hibernation holes in lower rivers.
Thank you for your reports
See you at the docks,
Blue Chip

Email: [email protected]

Introduction – Snow In May? A Cool Spring
The first Megalops newsletter was just getting finalized when a sudden cold snap occurred—snow in May!  I do recall a snowfall the first week of May in 1977.
It was while I was staying at a house on the Narrow River, Rhode Island, across from the Mettatuxet Yacht Club. To help with University of Rhode Island costs, I would hang shad gill nets and the morning of May 9th, I recall as sunny, and warm enough that I hung up the float line between two oak trees. When you hang a gillnet, webbing (meshes) is attached according to a ratio of stretched webbing to line length; in this case 3 meshes hung in one stretched mesh, or three meshes in about 5 inches. The mesh was 69 Tex or 3 to 1 in five inches. The mesh was 69 Tex or three times the diameter of a human hair – very fine. It was a Connecticut River shad gill net fishery which regulated the use of this very fine mesh. When you set for shad, you soon learned that one leaf can snag a dozen of these hair like meshes. I started the gill net and went in for lunch, about halfway into lunch, I checked the net and saw that in the west, the sky was quite dark. I thought a thunder shower, and went back to quickly finish lunch, looking up as we were hit with winds so strong that leaves by the thousands now hung in the net- hours of cleaning lay ahead.
At first, I tried shaking the oak leaves from the webbing, but with winds picking up- it started to snow (this was really turning out to be a bad time to hang webbing) and in ten minutes it was snowing hard. So, when news reports mentioned an expected high elevation snowfall May 9th, 1977 I was not shocked, the snowfall it was preceded by what may be called Derecho (a line of intense, widespread, and fast-moving windstorms and sometimes thunderstorms that moves across a great distance and is characterized by damaging winds) today.
It can snow in May, but that does not take away from the fact that 47 ̊F to 47  ̊F hibernation period is now beyond known food storage capacity – some blue crabs in the shallows are perhaps  starving. We really don’t know the impact of 54 ̊F  on October 20th to 34  ̊F on November 20th, a drop of 20  ̊F in about 30 days. At November 1 (about) at 47  ̊F to May 1 of 47  ̊F or about 180 days, about 30 days longer than New Jersey and 60 days longer than Chesapeake Bay. To give a difference in temperature from just a few years ago, April 17, 2012, Long Island Sound temperatures were 56 ̊F while in April 23, 2020, 46 ̊F a difference of ten degrees. In April of 2012, crabbers were catching large hungry blue crabs even before the season officially opened- May 1st. Look for the best crabbing in deep holes which tend by thermal heat make the winter hibernation much shorter. That is how blue crabs can survive a long, cool spring.
Rivers Hold Last Blue Crabs
Several cool winters have decreased Long Island Sound temperatures, we are ten degrees cooler than a decade ago for a June 15 date. Cooler water contains more oxygen, so when Long Island Sound is cooler, larger fish can be found in the shallows and shore fishing is better.  When it is extremely hot, inshore fishing declines in the very near shore shallow areas and often termed nursery habitats. 
They usually hold the smallest sizes of fish away from the deeper cooler water predators. Inshore or from the shore fishers are at a disadvantage guided by water temperature, in spring, larger fish can exist in the shallows so also the fall. Fish migrations help, here fish making long distance transit eat constantly to replace lost calories so they look to areas that can hold more food – the shallows.  You can see this in late fall as blue fish and stripers hug the beach between the low tide beach and the offshore sandbar. This put larger fish within range of the shore fishers, and fishing success greatly improves. Then there is energy, times of few storms and perhaps low rainfall habitats that were once “clean” firm or hard bottoms become soft and sticky, they may smell “bad” as well. This is also that shore habitat fishers experience, comparisons of a favorite spot that 50 or 60 years ago was “good” or “productive” now holds little fish. It is discouraging to watch this happen which I have many times, frustration that comes out with something like, “I don’t understand it, I used to catch fish here, and now, none.” I have seen that happen with trout fishing, once cool clear pools with sand and gravel become slimy and furry, rocks once clean now are covered with algae.   It is easy to be disappointed and then perhaps open to reasons why.
One of the reasons shore fishing has declined is in the legal-size fish in the nursery areas are fewer. Fifty years ago, overall, you could keep smaller fish in almost every category; the length of retainable fish has gone up, while the shore habitats remained in many areas remained the same. This is where carry capacity comes in these “nursery” habitats only held larger adults during migration or spawning; they just can’t exist in the shallows, they are sized out by habitat capacity.  Connecticut fishery managers realize this and have developed special rules for selected shore fishing sites; an excellent way to give shore fishers a chance and to put some fish in the basket and lessons the disappointment, the return of smaller fish that have yet to reach legal size. I watched this happen with winter flounder in the 1960s, as habitats become soft in the 1980s, bridge fishing in eastern CT was one of the last good spots to catch larger winter flounder. These areas at times had deep holes, areas of habitat refugia where flounder stayed. Bridges tended to make deep holes or slots. In many areas, the bridge restricted flows and faster currents kept these edges or banks clean of muck, soft shell clams could live in this sandy soil (so could sand worms), and shore fishers would fish these edges or banks with success but in time these “habitats failed” also, and then became hot in the 1980s and 1990s. The first habitat types to fail then were the nursery areas, and later evidenced in sharp declines in adult populations. Then the deep holes eventually became too hot and then failed as well for winter flounder. But these conditions helped blue crabs which soared after 1998. The situation has now reversed as we have some modest recent cooling occurring; these areas hold warmth, so blue crabs are seeking refuge in the deep holes, bends and river ridges, to over winter in cold. These have been the most productive blue crab spots this spring.
The Winter Hibernation Compost – Blue Crab and Sapropel
It is difficult for some blue crabbers to consider the chemistry of what happens when crabs choose hibernation areas. The same places may hold some crabs, but other winters done at all- that observation has a chemical explanation; blue crabs seek out bottoms (think soils) that contains composts – humus with oxygen or sapropel without oxygen. But it’s just not that simple. What could be humus in the fall could become a sapropel by spring. The change is from what bacteria are in it, how active they are and how much elemental oxygen is available for bacterial growth.
Humus + oxygen cool temps purge nitrate into the water column and bottoms appear brown (nitrate is nontoxic).
Humus + low oxygen and hot temperatures purges ammonia and bottoms appear grey. Ammonia is extremely toxic.
Sapropel + no oxygen in heat purges sulfides (toxic) bottoms appear black (sulfur odors)
Sapropel + no oxygen and cold – waxes and metal chelation + bottom appear black and sticky – “the sticky bottoms”
So a humus soil with oxygen in cold presents little concern for hibernating crabs in October or November, but extend the winter or seal off oxygen or block photosynthesis by thick ice (or ice over a long winter for example) and it is the sapropels that can cause the “sulfide deadline’ and this sulfide deadline starts in the soil itself. A long cold winter allows sulfides to seep from sapropel and when that happens, sulfide kills the crabs in place; this also is a period of food storage – capacity – so a long cold winter crabs may simply run out of food. Other factors could include dramatic changes in salinity, spring ice melt “freshets” or floods; all have a temperature (climate) connection, and both combined as a general term of winter kill.  My view, Tim Visel.
Recently, I gave a presentation to the Connecticut Metropolitan Council of Governments, December 9th, 2019 on Aquaculture GIS Needs Assessment at the UCONN Extension Office in Haddam, CT about Marine Composts in shallow water – the rise of sapropel in oxygen depleted waters.   
And some questions immediately following my talk, “never heard of it,” and I asked attendees to search under the term “Sapropel fertilizer,” which is the term used overseas (most of the world uses the term sapropel for the reduction of organic matter in the absence of oxygen). Here in the United States, we use around 30 different terms to describe it.
For centuries, farmers here used organic matter composts to enrich agricultural soils. The organic matter (manure, bark, leaves, blossoms, twigs, nut shells) form a dark humus layer containing bacteria. It is the bacteria that convert locked up dead plant nutrients into ion form and then able to pass into root tissue.  Feed the soil and it will feed you, is the basis for returning organic matter to agricultural soils. It is this food for bacteria in the soil that assists plant growth. Composts can occur in the marine environment, as well.  Very few fishers, boaters and a marina operators have heard the term for marine composts those bacterial actions that reduce marine plants and those washed from land into a “sapropel”. Marine composts exist, it’s just that they are below the water. Sapropel is the marine compost of the sea, it forms in the back waters and coves where energy is less and leaf matter collects. Although the term sapropel is rarely used in today’s literature (United States), overseas it is called by its correct name “Sapropel.” Sapropels forming low oxygen (no oxygen) as marine bacteria, do not need elemental oxygen; they use sulfate for their respiratory pathway where oxygen is in a compound form.
In the United States, it is called by dozens of names: black mayonnaise, facies, black facies, marine snow, floc, unconsolidated floc, fine grain sediments, coquina, flux, leaf muck, ooze, black ooze, sulfide slime, plough mud, pluff mud, harbor mud, acid soil, sulfate acid soil, while each of these names usually points to common characteristics:a sulfide rich organic compost.
It often has a jelly-like consistency - compost
It is black – low ph at the surface and deep deposits – alkaline
It appears as a blue-black sheen, which dries to grey-white
It is mostly water, but when disturbed, releases hydrogen sulfide- rotten egg smell
It contains wax and esters and gives rise to sticky bottom
It is a source of metal sulfides (iron mono-sulfides) and ammonia by sulfate reducing bacteria (sometimes considerable sources of nitrogen ammonia - see FIT Studies in Florida.)
It is a hazardous media for heavy metal cleanup (Europe)
It is sold commercially as soil enhancement a green fertilizer – Europe
It suffocates benthic organisms is looked as a culture media for vibrio and other pathogenic bacterium.

The sulfur cycle is distinctive to low oxygen sulfide rich Sapropel – when disturbed, it can generate hydrogen sulfide gas; the very familiar rotten egg smell so often mentioned in the fisheries literature.  The reason why “rotten eggs” is mentioned is that during The Great Heat or hot term 1880-1920 summers could be very hot with winters progressively mild, reaching a climate peak in 1899. In heat, the sulfur bacteria sealed from oxygen inside the egg (chicken) would putrefy and spoil; when cracked, a pungent whiff of hydrogen sulfide came out, i.e. “the smell of rotten eggs”. Although refrigeration in the 1920s and 1930s eliminated much of the egg spoilage, cookbooks into the 1940s and 1950s still continued to advise cracking eggs into a small bowl before adding them to the recipe to check for sulfur smells.
In the marine environment composts sealed from oxygen (as below eelgrass peat) or in low oxygen waters also had bacteria sulfides; the use of sulfate as an election oxygen source, by sulfate reducing bacteria. The marine composting previous is frequently in shallow “poorly flushed basins” and as such is more apt to become a sapropel. This marine compost purges nitrate in cold and sulfide in heat, sapropel formation usually proceeds as hot water fish kill. 

Residents along the coast who experience massive fish kills almost always report the smell of sulfur just beforehand and if the waters are mixed or a storm happens, this sulfide water (sometimes can be black from iron sulfides or termed “blackwater”) is dispensed. Even the next day the water conditions can be excellent leaving little evidence of the sulfide event, except a gray tint to the water, and perhaps the carcasses of dead fish.  This marine compost is rich in plant nutrients and for thousands of years harvested by coastal farmers to nourish depleted terrestrial soils. The difference being because of the sulfides once exposed to oxygen, it flashes, sulfuric acid, lowering pH to very low levels for a short time. Farmers learned this and the best marine mud harvests were those that contained some bivalve shell, such as mussel or oyster shell. In fact, in the Canadian Maritimes, where once over 1,000 machines harvested this marine compost for farmers called it mussel mud. (See Drawing Lines in The Ice (2013) by Josh MacFadyen).

The pH neutralization needs were known along the coast the worse the smell the more shell required to neutralize the acidity. This is a Maine reference to “flats, mud” and the use of lobster shell. “Fish and Men in the Maine Islands, by W.H. Bishop (1880) Harper’s New Monthly Magazine describes the soils of Mount Desert and Deer Islands as to yields of grain, potatoes and corn to replenish the organic matter. The article contains the following quote:
“The principal crop, and in the State of Maine, was hay. The Deer Island thought it would be worth double all the others put together.  He put on his lands a top-dressing of the refuse from the lobster factories, and also flats, mud which he found excellent.”
The Connecticut New Haven Agriculture Experiment Station (– see the publication titled: Manure from the Sea, Bulletin #194 -1917) and urged farmers to cut in shell or lime to offset the acidity.  A better understanding of sapropel is important to better understand blue crab winterkill.

The Rise of Smelt- Cooler Waters Return the Ice Fish to Southern New England
The fishery managers have tried to cope with species habitat management, the forage base and species. For example, silversides favors striped bass, they can collect light better than bluefish, giving them an early morning feeding advantage, most anglers will recognize that stripers rule the night, while blues the day. But what does this mean for predator species when the forage base reverses. During the cold and turbulent 1960s, Menhaden peanut bunkers lined the Connecticut shore and then over a period of 50 years, they declined as water temperatures rose with a warming climate. They were replaced with silversides and striped bass now grew to very large sizes and became abundant in the shallows – blue fishing along the shore declined as waters warmed – as these species require large amounts of oxygen.

One of the species we possibly need to watch in this cooling period (See NOAA Paper 2018, The NAO Evaluation of Shellfish Abundance by MacKenzie and Tarnowski) that continued cooling could impact the “return” of smelt to our water.  Smelt was once prevalent in Long Island Sound and even in New Haven Harbor and easily captured in a 30 foot bottom otter trawl (see Normandeau Associates (1981) New Haven Ecological Studies 1970 to 1980 Benthic Survey data) called the winter fish or ice fish by Native Americans- it must have been a welcome relief of fresh food that came to you. But some times excess was just as “bad” than fewer fish returning from the sea to spawn in rivers.

Joe “Buzzy” DiCarlo, Mass. Division of Marine Fisheries, wrote a long report which included smelt- too many returns which was bad, they would tend to disturb each other’s eggs. From DL 89-304 Anadromous Fish Act, Kenneth Publications #6496 (115-50-12-72-CR Reback and Joseph DiCarlo 1972 – Project Period February 1, 1967 to June 30 Completion Report Anadromous Fish Project 1970- Smelt on page 6 is found this statement.)

“Very little is known about the early Massachusetts fishery; Kendall, 1927 states that smelt was abundant in early times and still plentiful in the 1880s, as early in 1874 the taking of smelt was limited to hook and line. In spite of this attempt at conservation, the decline continued, Kendall 1927) noted the continuing decline and attributed it to inaccessibility or degradation of sprawning areas rather than to excessive and untimely fishing, an attempt was made to restore or establish smelt runs through widespread stocking between 1910 and 1920.”pg. 25 and pg. 26: “Records from the Massachusetts Division of Fishery and Game states that 5 million 325 thousand eggs and 450 thousand fry were stocked between 1917 and 1924 in the East Branch, Westport River.

Pg. 31   Shippican River – 3 million fry smelt fry stocked in 1918
Pg. 32    Weweantic River, Wareham, Cape Cod
The river below, Horse Shore Pond supports an excellent smelt fishery. The taking of smelt (1931 Act) March 1 to April 1, nets not to exceed 5 square feet.

“The continued success of this fishery causes doubts concerning the biological validity of the regulations in the general laws which are based on the premise that the smelt are too vulnerable both as adults and in the egg stage during the spawning season to support a sustained fishery. It is recommended that a study of the effects of more liberal harvests of smelt be undertaken to determine greater utilization can be made of smelt populations in our coastal streams.”

Pg. 64   South River – The River was heavily stocked with smelt from 1918 through 1920.
The report describes the decline of smelt perfectly during the four-decade period of 1880-1920 – John Hammond’s great heat waves or “great heat.”  Smelt would return to Connecticut in the 1940’s when Southern New England waters cooled. This is now associated with the NAO. Smelt even became prevalent in western Long Island in the Town of Greenwich in the 1950s. The return of smelt to Connecticut would indicate however, declining habitat quality for the blue crab.

The Blue Crabs and Acid Rivers
One of the ways that the NAO influences fish and shellfish habitat is rainfall. A period of heavy rain (which is already below 7 on the 1 to 14 scale) brings acidic water and the acids of wood and leaf litter into the estuaries. Fishers see this as brown or chocolate waters; waters rich in tannin which turns water into an “oak leaf tea”. A low pH can free bound metals especially toxic aluminum It can also make shell formation more difficult shifting the carbonate ion matrix – causing at times shell material to dissolve.  A low pH also acts to shape the bacterial spectrum to those who can live in it; low pH is tolerated by sulfate reducers. The same but often opposite impact in droughts, here the reduced rainfall allows tidal saltwater wedges to move up further, carrying alkaline waters with more carbonate, making it possible for shellfish to set and grow in areas in which before they could not. Suitable habitat has now expanded, a return to acid river flows often causes a shellfish retraction. That is why the upper reaches of tidal rivers often have shell transitions in cove core – sections that show layers of organic humus (sapropel) with layers of bivalve shell.  In this way, large fluctuations in climate can be detected and in some examinations of oyster shell middens in the mid coast of Maine point to a time of great heat periods, and perhaps less rain, allowing oysters to flourish in times of warmth; most would consider the Chesapeake area the location for oyster production not the coast of Maine more known today for cool water lobsters than warm water oysters. But examination of these oyster shell deposits leads me to consider natural not man-made changes to New England’s climate far before any port cities were built. Because these shell deposits exist and were not scraped off the land since the glaciers, and they frequently can be found in our near estuarine habitats today, as such, they can provide an important look into past climate cycles. They may, even at times, hold the remains of blue crabs.
This is an excerpt from A Historic Trilogy by Harold W. Castner, The Prehistoric Oyster Shell Heaps of the Damariscotta River.
A Historic Trilogy by Harold W. Castner

The Prehistoric Oyster Shell Heaps of the Damariscotta River

An excerpt of an account of Ancient Oysters in the Damariscotta River in Maine.  A 1950 account reproduced from a reprinted Damariscotta History Society bulletin.  A Historic Trilogy by Harold Castner – reprinted by the Damariscotta Historical Society – introduction Richard B. Day printed by the Boothbay Register.

In 1950 Harold Castner wrote several environmental fisheries histories for the Damariscotta River and a village he called Pemaquid in mid coast Maine.  I am sure he did not realize at the time that he would be one of the first environmental historians to portray coastal shellfish history (ecology) as a continuum of events far before European settlement.  He looked to those who lived along the coast before his time to write and help explain his favorite topic, history.

In this account he describes a healthy oyster population in Oyster Creek 1895 and “novelty oyster suppers” at the Damariscotta Baptist Church and a dredging project in 1900-1901 to Cottrells Wharf when some very large oyster shells were dredged up in the Damariscotta River.  (A more detailed write up of his accounts found in IMEP #3 Did Native Americans Leaves Us a Habitat History Lesson for Climate Change?  December 2013 – The Blue Crab Forum™ Fishing, Eeling and Oystering posted February 11, 2014).

A segment of his description is reprinted below but a more recent work Boom and Bust on the River, The story of the Damariscotta Oyster Shell Heaps – Archaeology of Eastern North America 1986) provides evidence of habitat species reversals – the presence of clam middens over those of oysters (from a series of accounts The Davistown Museum) changes of abundance such as above indicate a changing population that could signify a different climate.  Investigations of shell middens should yield further evidence of such cycles in coastal resource abundance.

An excerpt of an account of Ancient Oysters in the Damariscotta River in Maine is from a 1950 account reproduced from a reprinted Damariscotta History Society bulletin.

“Just previous to the Civil War, Professor Chadbourne of Bowdoin College, made a thorough study of the deposits, and established for all time, conclusive proof that these shells had been left there as a result of ancient feasts, and at a time so far in the past, he dared not attempt computation.  He found many individual piles of shells ten or fifteen feet in diameter and several feet deep.  Beneath this, the soil was made up of a alluvial deposit of sand, gravel and rocks, resembling the land adjacent to the deposits.  There were numerous bones of animals, birds and beavers, and even a sturgeon’s plate.  A dark line ran through the bottom of the great mounds, showing the possibility of vegetable mould, formed during temporary abandonment of the place.  Shells under this layer were decomposed, or turned to lime, as if acted upon by fire.  He obtained shells of other types than the oyster and found some clam, quahog, and several kinds.

Despite the loss of hundreds of tons of shells by erosion and commercial uses, a great volume still stands exposed to view.  Scientific investigation revealed that there were three distinct periods of construction of these heaps.  In each case there was a period of abandonment, during which time a thick layer of vegetable mould accumulated over the shells.  The lowest layer of shells extended over about one eighth of the present known area.  This layer was about three feet thick, and at the base, many large tree trunks were found which had decayed to powder, leaving conical hollows around which the shells were packed.  Directly above this layer was a strata of mold which was some five inches thick.  It has been quite accurately determined that it takes about one hundred years to accumulate an inch of mold.  We can, therefore fix the period of this first abandonment at about five hundred years.

The second layer of shells was larger and more extensive.  This was about six feet thick and covered by mold to the thickness of about three inches, or, let us say, an interval of three hundred years of the second abandonment.  In this second strata of mold were found trunks of large trees which were of unknown species in this climate.  They were two or three feet in diameter and had grown up entirely over this second strata of shells.  These trunks were better preserved than those of the first strata, but although they held their form, they easily crumbled in his hands.

The third strata of shells had a layer of about three inches of mold over it.  An intimate study of this top layer of mold caused scientists to agree that it was about three hundred years ago when the last deposits were made, or at the time of the Wawenock Settlement, at this place of abundant food supply.”

Acid rivers have been identified as detrimental to salmon, and in periods of very acidic rains and low buffering capacity of watersheds, bivalve shell has been added in an effort to modify low pH acid waters. The State of Maine had started a program called The Clamshell Project to do this.
So what is a tidal acid river? It is one that at times looks fine, water flows in and out with the tides, but at times it carries a brown tint. It is heavily impacted by rain (pH of 5.6 in our area) has little or no definable saltwater wedge (except in times of extreme drought) and therefore little mixing from alkaline seawater (8 pH in our area).  An acid river is experienced by multiple water sports, rowing sailing, kayakers, and birdwatchers. It has few fishers, however. Acid rivers are destructive to fish, and a huge concern to fish species like salmon or alewife that return to New England waters to lay eggs in spring. (Maine for example had a program of placing bivalve shell in salmon rivers). The soils of an acid river are usually brown, and a humus deposit that seeps a series of organic acids. Much of the acid is complexed in dead plant tissue, especially oak with a pH of a very low 4.3 to 5.3. Maple leaves aren’t much better --they have a pH of 3.8. Tannin, a natural organic acid, has a pH of 5.6, but is overcome by calcium in seawater, they color the water brown but are short lasted. (The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment State Report 809, January 1983 (Acid Rain -CT.gov).

The problem with tannin is if it is present in waters that do not pass through soils in the watershed that contain limestone. This is known as. the buffering capacity and more important in tidal rivers subject to organic matter, marshes and peat meadows. Many “acid” tidal rivers are bounded by Phragmites.

(See Impact Of Common Reed And Complete Organic Matters And The Chemistry Of Acid Sulfate Soils – Journal of Soil Science and Plant Nutrition, Volume 18, #2 June 2018, Patrick S. Michael and Robert J. Reid.)

The Ventless Lobster Trap Proposal

New England reports that 1810 Connecticut Sailing smacks were traveling to Cape Cod for lobsters, and reports from 1812-1814 mention the high cost of lobsters for captured British Prisoners of War. Lobsters, once a shunned food and sometimes was delivered to back porches to avoid embarrassment.  At this time, it was embarrassing that you could only avoid cheap food. The problem was that lobsters were no longer a cheap food, once the realm of fertilizer or animal food now had commercial value; and worth the effort to travel to Cape Cod for them. This period was a warm one for New England, Connecticut under the direction of Jared Elliot of Yale, and a Guilford resident was urging farmers to plant mulberry trees for a silkworm industry. (A section of Guilford today is still called Mulberry Point). The silk industry ended in the 1830s in blizzards.  But by the colder 1840s and 1850s Noank, CT had become New England’s “lobster” capital. By 1910, however, Noank’s lobster trade was in “ruins” a term that describes a commercial collapse; that same year Connecticut established a lobster hatchery in the same town, Noank.  Lobsters in 1898 started to die off which occurred to 1906, leaving those that depended upon the lobster fishery to face “ruin”. During this time, states (New England) built lobster hatcheries to restore lobster populations. It was reported that the first support for hatcheries came from habitat observations of Maine’s lobster pounds that small lobsters were prevalent outside and near pounds which held at times large numbers of female egg bearing lobsters who extruded eggs while in the pounds themselves. The megalops stage matured, and then populated the shallows.

Maine Sea And Shore Fisheries Reports 1905 pg. 30, has this segment (from Public Documents of Maine 1905 -Annual Reports of the Various Departments and Institutions for the year 1904, Volume II Augusta, Kennebec Journal Printers 1905).”

“The principle of the scheme was to purchase from the fishermen 50,000 desirable seed lobsters, and place them in a suitable pound for protection where they could be retained and fed during such time as fishing operations were proceeding; after which, or when the eggs were sufficiently advanced, the lobsters were to be liberated along the coast whence they were taken, thus permitting such of them as had not already cast their fry in the pounds to hatch their eggs in their natural haunts in conformity with the strict methods of nature.”
(We will never know precisely what the strict methods of nature meant in this instance, but I suspect forage/prey relationships, T. Visel).

And further page 30:

“A specialist of the Department was sent to inspect the working of the scheme, and on the 5th of August he reported that the eggs were hatching out in millions within the enclosures of the pounds, and the young lobsters were making their way through the wire netting into the sea. At the time of his visit, there were still in the pounds about 20,000 berried (egg bearing lobsters, T. Visel), lobsters, the eggs of which were in various stages of development, while the enclosure was teeming with vigorous newly hatched fry. It is perhaps not too sanguine a conclusion to say that so far as can be proved by the facts actually observed in the experience of those charged with the conduct of this experiment, its result was a complete success.”

The results of small lobsters outside of Maine lobster pounds would encourage the development of lobster hatcheries. The largest lobster hatchery would be built in Maine at McKown Point, Boothbay Harbor, beginning in 1903 was finished in 1904 and began operations in 1905.

In 1909, the Boothbay hatchery would release over 140 million fry into Maine’s coastal waters.
One of the indicators of lobsters’ return to Long Island Sound would be the appearance of small lobsters in the shallows and one way (with necessary state approval) could be a ventless survey (no escape panels) on small traps. I used to trap these very small lobsters with hardware cloth (metal weave) circular eel traps set in kelp. (This was to trap small bait eels for striper fishery and also green crabs for blackfishing). A punched tin of cat food was a great bait and lasted a long time. Several states have started ventless surveys. In 1915, Connecticut lobster fishers reported a sudden and dramatic increase in sublegal lobsters 18 years after the 1898 lobster die-off. This happened because a vent escape law was several years away. The sudden appearance of “short” lobsters was much more evident. Lobster fishers report to Connecticut fishery managers that lobsters were moving back.
It is the shallows, the nursery areas largely full of predators that will show the increase in lobster megalops survival. Surveys in the nursery area, the kelp cobblestone habitats are important places to conduct such lobster studies.
See Appendix 2.


Appendix 1 Blue Crabs of Nantucket Massachusetts

An inventory and Interpretation
   Selected Resources of The Island of Nantucket, A Collaborative Study by  The Town of Nantucket, Massachusetts Dept. of Natural Resources - College of the Agriculture Corporate Extension Service, 1968
“Blue crabs have had a history of being present in Hither Creek. While sampling a few of the species were actually observed, but fishing pressure for these crabs was noted in the creek. It is understood that blue crabs were present in several other marshes but no evidence of this species existing elsewhere was observed while sampling. In Massachusetts, the blue crab population has recently declined drastically, and the Nantucket population may also be following this trend. At present however, there have been no definite reason for this decline.”
FW: Lobster Ventless Trap Survey Appendix 2
Tim Visel

Sent Wednesday May 2, 2018
To  Robert LaFrance
Attachments: A Junior-Senior Capstone & The case for Artificial Reefs
Hello Rob,
I am contacting you in the hopes that we may Be able to enter into a project for a lobster ventless trap survey. Since our communications a year ago some reports have come in about increased numbers of healthy-looking short lobsters in eastern Connecticut. Our blue crab population continues to dwindle at appears to be taking the same cycle impacts a century ago, lobsters and blue crab abundance is opposite each other period we would like to set out a few ventless traps or work with others in eastern Connecticut who wish to conduct similar educational small lobster study. We had talked about some cooperative programs and this might be an opportunity for some capstone projects for our students -To bring you up to date we are building some reef balls -currently if you would like to watch a pour just let me know. Thanks again for your interest in our school.


Lobster Ventless Trap Survey April 13, 2017
Correspondence (2017 -2018) between Tim Visel and Robert LaFrance, Esq., Director, Office of Law and Policy for Environmental Conservation, Office of  the Commissioner, The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Third Floor at 79 Elm Street, Hartford, CT 06106-+5127 [P: 860-XXX-XXXX; F: 860-XXX-XXXX; E: Robert LaFrance.

Tim sends 1903 Lobster convention report including habitat enhancement (rubble reef – kelp and hatchery science as possible management considerations.

Robert expresses his thanks to Tim for the unbelievably helpful information.
Tim answers (April 2017) with suggested recommendations: Get ASMFC to think about other measures than a gauge increase and combine that with an effort for CT Coastal Area Management Plant to establish low profile rubble reefs. Tim discusses man made reefs, refers him to online papers, etc. the build up of lobster habitat capacity.
Tim suggests student hatchery efforts with a plan for reef efforts to provide increased lobster reproductive capacity (egg survival to stage 4) and enhanced habitat capacity for released lobsters. Sending him artificial reef information.
Tim asks Robert to consider a project for a lobster ventless trap survey.  Tim mentions increased numbers of healthy-looking short lobsters in eastern CT. Blue crab populations continue to dwindle and appear to be taking the same cycle impacts a century ago. Lobsters and blue crab abundance is opposite each other. We would like to set out a few ventless traps or work with others in eastern CT to conduct similar educational small lobster study. Mentions reef balls being built by Sound School and offers him a chance to see them being built.

From: Tim Visel
Sent Thursday, April 13, 2017
To Robert LaFrance
Subject: Lobster Management

Thanks, Rob, for the positive comments perhaps we can get ASMFC to think about some other measures than a gauge Increase and combine that with an effort for Connecticut C AM coastal area management plant folks to establish low profile rubble reefs. I used to work for Richard Cooper at Avery Point Undersea Research when he was head of the effort to rebuild Avery Point UConn campus. We got into an artificial reef discussion at the time --middle 1980s --and he told me that man-made reefs allowing for capacity size that is could hold many more small lobsters than natural ones. After I left NOAA, I learned that the BCF scuba diver who had recorded this enhanced lobster habitat capacity was Dick himself!  (Boothbay Harbor Marine 1966). This manmade reef had increased lobster habitat capacity six fold, and his papers are online (Cooper RA Uzman J. R. 1971 Migrations and Growth of Deep Sea Lobsters Homarus americanas Science 177- 288 - 290 seasonal abundance of the American lobster in the Boothbay region of Maine RA Cooper et al transactions of the American Fisheries Society Volume 104, Issue 4, 1975.)

It would be great to combine student hatchery efforts with a plan for reef efforts (something that I have urged the state to consider since 1974) as to not only provide increased lobster reproductive capacity (egg survival to stage 4) and enhanced habitat capacity for released lobsters), (NOAA Milford laboratory has studied this ( in the years ahead.
I will send along some papers about artificial reef to you shortly. We have permission to place a few reef balls which is an excellent start for this concept.

Appendix #3 Megalops


Submitted to Working Waterfront, Editor, August 12, 2013

I would like to comment in a very positive way regarding the article in Fathoming “What Happens When Fish Head North and Fishermen Do Not.” The Working Waterfront, August, 2013 by Dr. Heather Deese and Catherine Schmitt.  “Yes, finally.”  For so long the overfishing debate has grabbed the attention of the public and fishery regulators, but long-term climate and energy fishery research tells a much different story, and the fisher point of view. Fish swim when faced with declining habitat quality, they “move”.  It is possible to overfish the stragglers, yes and that overfishing is very different, then the targeting of undersized fish-- we need to look at that concept in more detail.  Connecticut’s lobster/blue crab population reversal since 1998 may be a great place to start.

Connecticut had good lobster regulations similar to New England’s as our waters warmed post 1974 and lobsters died off, we embraced V notching and students from three high schools reported on this program following previous observer protocol programs offshore. They had excellent cooperation from industry, regulators and even with lobster gauge increases in the end the lobster habitat failed as waters became “hot.”  Fishers’ reports mention that many of the lobsters V-notched were caught south of Block Island, lobsters move also.

Was the recent Connecticut Lobster Fishery (post 1998) overfished? No, it was not, the lobster fishers and regulators did everything they could- but regulations cannot overcome a widespread habitat change, the waters became hot, acidic and oxygen depleted. Short and then adult lobsters died or became diseased by the tens of thousands.

The sad truth about this story is that it was largely a repeat of 1898, when in the middle of the New England Great Heat (1880-1920), lobsters in Connecticut died off before, and also in Southern New England. (Rhode Island was the only state to close its lobstering in 1904). We built as all New England then built lobster hatcheries (the largest one by far was in Boothbay, Maine) and focused on the critical Stage 4 lobsters. By 1905 most of the small lobsters in Southern New England had perished, to be replaced by an amazing surge in blue crabs (1905-1912). Blue crabs now flourished in these warmer waters even into Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. By the 1960s during a strong North Atlantic Oscillation, water temperatures cooled winter storms more severe and blue crabs became scarce, lobster populations slowly recovered in Connecticut and elsewhere. The New England Lobster Hatcheries closed (except the one on Martha’s Vineyard). The Stage 4 population recovered much due to a new kelp cobblestone habitat cleaned by storms.

We could learn much from a long-term climate and energy impacts from fisheries history as the Fathoming article presents. The 1870s were very cold in New England and Halibut were caught almost on the beaches. By the time of Gloucester Massachusetts fisher strike, in the teens, it was already too late for these halibut fisheries, they had already moved north; the catch trip logs mention good catches in progressively deeper cooler waters. Fishers reports were puzzled by the movements north, but as history shows, it was just getting too hot. The Great Heat was upon the fisheries and its impact to fishers recorded by history.

Temperature and energy levels have a great deal to say in terms of our present fisheries, we could learn much from our fisheries history and the reports of fishers.

Thanks again for bringing this concept to the forefront in Fathoming.
Tim Visel

Tim Visel is Coordinator of the Sound School Regional Vocational Aquaculture Center, New Haven, CT. He is a fisheries habitat historian studying fish and shellfish population changes from climate conditions.

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.”

Appendix 4


While most of the New England fisheries are facing the prospect of collapse, Maine’s lobster industry is alive and kicking. An observer analyzes why
By Philip Conkling
CLF – Conservation Matters – Summer 1995, page 11

“Even to casual observers, the record number of new pickup trucks parked along the wharves of Maine’s 144 commercial fishing ports suggests that the news is not all bad. Some of it actually is extraordinary: the value of the 1994 Maine lobster catch exceeded the $100 million figure for the first time in history, surpassing the 1993 total by a cool $29 million. That’s a lot of pickups; the value of the catch reached historic levels due to a happy confluence of several events. Actual landings of 40 million jobs were the highest in over a century of record keeping, and demand was strong enough to keep prices received by lobstermen firm, averaging out for the year at around $2.60 per lb. No one believes the news will stay this good for long.

The secret of success

If you can answer this riddle, you may either proceed directly to heaven, or get elected to any town office anywhere along Maine’s nearly endless coastline. But some biological factors are noticeable. Over the past several years, summer water temperatures have increased steadily and crept further and further east, increasing the marine ecosystem’s growth rate. Some lobstermen believe that the absence of predatory cod which prey on juvenile lobsters can explain the abundance. Yet, seals, which are omnivorous predators of benthic habitat, have increased rapidly tin the past decade. But beyond such immediate explanation, the way the lobster “industry” is structured and managed is highly instructive and is fundamental to any understanding of why it is thriving in Maine.

Principles of biology have been, over time, carefully incorporated into a few simple and universally accepted conservation regulations which the lobstermen rigorously enforce. It may be hard to believe in the conservation ethic of Maine lobster men when you see pot buoys on “shedder bottom” so dense that you could walk across a  bay on them. But it’s there, day in and day out. The rules protect small lobsters before they spawn for the first time and large breeders which carry disproportionately large numbers of eggs. Also, female lobsters that are trapped while carrying eggs (“berried” lobsters are returned to the sea after having a notch cut in their tail. For years thereafter, you cannot land V-notched females in Maine.
Setting limits while fishing more

There is no doubt that the best doubling of lobster landings in Maine, which has occurred gradually year by year for the past six to eight years, is partly a result of increased fishing effort. But most fishermen (and even a few biologists) believe that increased effort above cannot account for the number of lobsters now appearing off the Maine coast. Twenty years ago, most Maine lobstermen fished 250 traps, today 800 is closer to the norm and there are quite a few Casco Bay lobstermen fish trawls of between 2,000 and 3,000 traps.

Lobstering is not only Maine’s most valuable fishery, it defines the coastal culture in a way that nothing else does. The values of this culture—independence, individualism, intense competitiveness, attention to detail and invisible cooperation – are daily facts of life in the state’s 144 lobstering communities, and are consistently well-rewarded In spite of the conflicts of mobile gear and fixed gear fishermen, these are also the values shared by most members of the New England fishing community.  But of the resources of the Gulf of Maine, few are as watchfully contended over as the Maine lobster, and few fisheries can boast such a history of successful management.”


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