EDFish

Selected tag(s): blue crab

Good News for Blue Crabs: Va. Governor McAuliffe Appointed to Bay Leadership Role

bluecrab_infographicThe Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in North America and is one of the most biologically productive areas on the East Coast. Part of EDF’s work in the Northeast is focused on the incredible Chesapeake Bay and its once prosperous fisheries, some of which are now in serious trouble.

But we see some encouraging news for the Chesapeake Bay – and for its iconic blue crabs – with the appointment of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to the Chair of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council. Read More »

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A Small-Scale Indonesian Fishery with a Big Market: Improving Blue Swimming Crab management

Blue Swimming Crab. Photo: Alexis Rife

Blue Swimming Crab. Photo: Alexis Rife

Indonesia is a nation of over 17,000 islands where fishing contributes significantly to local livelihoods, food security and culture:

  • Two million fishers + millions more people rely on the coast for their food and livelihoods
  • At least 50% of Indonesians’ animal protein comes from seafood

Indonesia is the second largest producer of wild capture seafood in the world, feeding Indonesians, but also exporting much to other countries. During a recent site visit to Indonesia, I was excited to learn about a local, small-scale fishery that plays a part in a big international seafood market: blue swimming crab. Read More »

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Electronic Monitoring and Accountability in the Chesapeake Proves Effective

MD Blue Crab Design Team member and active EM pilot project participant, David Kirwin, uses a tablet to submit daily harvest reports from his boat Photo Credit: Ward Slacum

MD Blue Crab Design Team member and active EM pilot project participant, David Kirwin, uses a tablet to submit daily harvest reports from his boat
Photo Credit: Ward Slacum

Discussion about innovation, trends and shortfalls in fisheries monitoring tends to focus on large, off-shore fisheries in New England, Alaska and the Pacific.  Those regions are home to multi-species fisheries, with complex biological interactions, and are targeted by large boats that result in sizeable discards of “non-target” fish.  Monitoring technologies, both human and electronic, are essential to reduce this waste.  Smaller scale fisheries, however, have just as much need for improved electronic monitoring and accountability measures.

Not surprisingly, blue crab is the most valuable fishery in the Chesapeake Bay.  And it’s about as complex as they come.  More than 7,000 watermen deploy small boats from thousands of waterfront access points and are regulated by three different management jurisdictions, all of which use antiquated reporting systems.

As reported on this blog before, commercial crabbers in Maryland have tested mobile technologies, like smart phones and tablets, to report and verify daily harvest.  In 2012 and 2013, volunteers used these various technologies and provided constructive feedback to Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) to improve its monitoring and reporting system.  Overall, participants in the two-year pilot are pleased with mobile technology tools and the web-based reporting platform, which along with dockside spot checks, have improved reporting accuracy and timeliness, according to fisheries managers.  As part of the 2013 pilot, fisheries managers offered limited regulatory flexibility for pilot volunteers in order to encourage participation and demonstrate how improved accountability can lead to streamlined regulations. Read More »

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Maryland Crab Pilot Aims to Modernize Reporting

Maryland Blue Crab

Photo by: John Starmer/Marine Photobank

When summer time rolls around on the Chesapeake Bay, watermen, tourists and locals alike start thinking about one thing: Blue Crabs. Will there be enough? How much will they cost? How long will the season last?

Past years have seen seasons cut short based on regulations that conservatively lower scientifically determined catch limits as a precautionary management measure, because real-time harvest data is limited.  The process for counting how many crabs have been caught – and by whom – has been problematic, relying on a paper-based system that is time-consuming and too slow to allow meaningful adjustments to catch limits midseason. This year, both watermen and state officials agreed that a new system, using modern and faster technologies, was needed. Read More »

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Maryland Waterman Turns Vision into Opportunity for Chesapeake Fishing Communities

Johnny Shockley, business partners and member of the Dorchester County, MD Chamber of Commerce.

The Chesapeake commercial fishing community is full of practical, hard-working businessmen and women who overcome weather, regulatory challenges, and market obstacles every day.  Some go even further to combine their grit and drive with innovation and vision to create a business that leverages the allure of Chesapeake seafood and new market opportunities.  Johnny Shockley, a career waterman from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, is doing just that.

Johnny began oystering with his dad and grandfather at the age of 12.  For the last 35 years, he has worked on the water making his living by harvesting the Chesapeake’s blue crabs, fish and oysters.  Recognizing the growing challenges to his industry and family heritage, Johnny realized that he needed to “think outside of the box” to create new business opportunities for his family.

After over three years of hard work and planning, Johnny and his business partner, Ricky Fitzugh, officially launched Hooper’s Island Oyster Aquaculture, Inc., home of Chesapeake Gold Oysters.  Last year, Hooper’s Island Oyster Aquaculture, Inc. bought 1 million oyster larvae, grew them to market size over the past 12 months and is now selling the seafood delicacy throughout the Washington, DC area.  This year, they expanded to four million more larvae. Read More »

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Crabbing in South Carolina: A Day on the Water Provides Real-World Perspective

South Carolina waterman, Fred Dockery, hauling crab traps on Stono River in SC.

South Carolina waterman, Fred Dockery, hauling crab traps on Stono River in SC.

Last week, I made my first visit to Charleston, South Carolina for a national meeting of fisheries scientists. Before settling into the meeting room for three long days, I spent a day on the water with Fred Dockery, a local commercial fisherman, to learn more about his work.

Fred and I first got in touch more than a year ago and began a correspondence based on our shared interest in oyster toadfish, a species once described in a scientific paper as “grotesque” and one that only a fisherman or ichthyologist can truly love! Although many people look down upon them, toadfish have made important contributions to neurological research, boost production of natural and cultured shellfish by controlling predators of young clams, oysters, scallops and mussels, and support small commercial fisheries in Delaware Bay and Long Island.

Toadfish were not, however, the order of the day. Instead, our quarry was the famous blue crab, an icon of the Chesapeake Bay but also plentiful in South Carolina waters. Fred primarily fishes for blue crab, but like many small-scale coastal fishermen he earns his living harvesting a variety of local resources, including shrimp, clams and oysters. We also encountered stone crabs in his traps and did so carefully, for their tasty claws are much more powerful than those of a blue crab and can do much more damage.

Stone crabs and blue crabs from the South Carolina Stono River.

Stone crabs and blue crabs from the South Carolina Stono River.

I was not the first guest Fred had welcomed aboard his boat.  Writers from the Food & Wine blog and Hugging the Coast magazine had previously fished with Fred and written about the experience, tying his livelihood with the splendid cuisine of the Carolina lowcountry. In fact, I wasn’t even the first scientist to accompany Fred who has participated in collaborative research with state and federal biologists, and even co-authored a scientific report on a study of dolphin entanglements that he helped conduct.

Fred and I launched his 19-foot boat near the eastern mouth of the Stono River from James Island. The Stono has no purely freshwater stretch along its length, and instead is primarily flooded and drained by tides rising and falling from the Atlantic. At its most upstream reaches, the Stono connects with the North Edisto River and together they form the semicircular backbone of a productive system of tidal creeks and marshes.

Aerial view of the Stono River in South Carolina.

Aerial view of the Stono River in South Carolina.

Hailing from the Northeast, where natural oyster beds and reefs have all but vanished from most coastal waters, I was particularly struck by the abundance of oysters. I noticed how, in many places along the Stono, oysters grow right along the marsh edge, helping to trap and stabilize sediments and buffer the marsh from erosion due to storms and boat wake. The importance of these types of habitat mosaics is a poorly understood and even more poorly appreciated aspect of coastal ecosystems, although a developing restoration plan for the Hudson-Raritan estuary in New York and New Jersey notably includes habitat mosaics as a key goal.

Fred and I worked our way north on the Stono for nearly 10 miles, pulling and resetting traps, and sorting the catch. I saw first-hand the upstream shift from female- to male-dominated catch, and felt the sharp sting resulting from the inescapable reality that blue crabs are much faster than I am, even out of the water and on my turf. Fred, on the other hand, long ago perfected moves that allow him to avoid the steady grunts of “ouch!” coming from my end of the culling board. Still, as the day wore on, practice and trust in my heavy rubber gloves made me bolder with the crabs and quicker with the cull.

Blue crabs by the marsh on the Stono River in SC.

Blue crabs by the marsh on the Stono River in SC.

Our fishing day ended in time for Fred to head downtown for a meeting.  Fred is a fisherman who takes very seriously his responsibilities off the water. He serves on the Board of Directors of the South Carolina Seafood Alliance, and is an active advocate for limited entry in the South Carolina blue crab fishery. The primary goal of limited entry is trap reduction in order to ensure that fishing effort is commensurate with resource productivity. Reducing effort as permits expire and are not renewed will eliminate opportunistic and out-of-state fishermen, and in doing so secure fishing businesses for those who are truly invested (financially and through their identity) in the fishery on a regular basis and for the long-haul.

The timing of my trip with Fred could not have been better, given that my next few days were spent buried in the intricacies of fisheries science. Our excursion provided a renewed awareness of the importance of scientists keeping close to the water through field research, time on commercial fishing boats, or simply sport fishing in their spare time in order to keep the math and models in our heads balanced alongside real-world perspective. I was also reminded of the importance of regular dialogue and cooperation between scientists and fishermen so that each can understand and incorporate the other’s perspectives and ideas in meeting shared goals of productive and sustainable fisheries.

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