Suddenly they were everywhere. From Cape Cod to Connecticut and even out to Martha’s Vineyard and Block Island, blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus) appeared this past summer in numbers not seen in decades. Blue crabs have always been present in New England waters—Cape Cod marks the northernmost boundary of their spawning range—but it’s unclear why they were so abundant in 2010.
According to Bruce Estrella, a marine biologist with the Massachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries, blue crab productivity is dependent on a number of conditions, including water temperature, food availability, habitat and competition from other species. He points out that the milder winters and warmer summers that New England has been experiencing in recent years could be a factor in the crabs’ abundance in 2010. Blue crabs grow and reach sexually maturity faster in warmer water, so last summer’s record heat may have helped a larger number of the crabs grow to maturity. Further, the milder winter of 2009-10 meant that more crabs survived from previous years.
John Torgan, Baykeeper with Save The Bay in Rhode Island, points out that the marine environment of southern New England is gradually coming to resemble that of more southern waters, including the Chesapeake. This may be why we’re seeing more blue crabs and a decline in cold-water species, such as lobsters and winter flounder.
What is not fully known is how European green crabs, an invasive species introduced to New England in the 1800s, and native blue crabs interact, and whether one might prey on the other, or compete for the same food sources. It did appear that green crabs were noticeably less abundant in areas where blue crabs were present this summer. Others have questioned whether the apparent decline in juvenile striped bass, which prey on crabs, along the coast has affected the blue crab population.
Whatever the reasons behind the blue crab explosion, New England fishermen reaped the bounty. Tackle stores saw a run on crab nets and traps, and Old Bay seasoning was in sudden demand at many coastal markets.
“We sold a butt-load of crabbin’ nets this summer,” says Thom Pelletier of Quaker Land Tackle in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. “It was a banner year for blue crabs from the top of the Bay right down throughout the South Shore salt ponds.”
Other shops reported the same. “Blue crab fishing was the best we’ve ever seen,” said Nick Mossoro of Fisherman’s World in Norwalk, Connecticut. When asked whether he though the crabs would be back next year, he said, “You never know. Some years the good fishing holds up into the next season, while other times it doesn’t.”
Bruce Estrella also cautioned about making predictions about next year’s fishery, and points out that a harsh winter could reduce the population significantly.
Save The Bay Video:
Blue crabs are out in record numbers. Save The Bay’s John Torgan goes fishing for answers why.
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Were you among the folks who noticed the abundance of blue crabs in 2010?
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