Cold, wet spring slowed crabs


June 28, 1994|By PETER BAKER

For several weeks, an experienced recreational crabber in my part of the world has been setting his trotline down toward the creek mouth and getting mixed results. A bushel one day, a dozen or two the next several days.

The season, he says, is way behind this year and he can't figure the rhyme or reason of it.

The reason apparently is as simple as it is uncontrollable, says William P. Jensen of the Department of Natural Resources Tidewater Fisheries Division.

"We think of the blue crab as the ultimate biological animal," Jensen said yesterday. "It is completely regulated by temperature."

When the water is too cold, the crabs don't eat, they don't move, they don't shed and they don't grow.

And if they are sedentary, they are not being caught, either -- and such seems to be the case in area waters above the Choptank River.

Given the continuing heat wave this month, one might wonder how the waters of the Chesapeake and its tributaries could be too cold for anything other than an ice cube.

But, Jensen said, the stages that mark the evolution of the crab and the crabbing season have been behind this year largely because of a cold, wet spring.

"You always have variances in the year classes, with some smaller and some larger," Jensen said, "and they are very hard to predict from year to year."

This year's prediction was for an average take of crabs, based on very young crabs being plentiful last year.

But throw in the cold spring, the cold freshwater flows from the tributaries, especially the Susquehanna River, which greatly influences the bay above the Choptank, and the system is thrown off balance.

"Generally, you have a peeler run on the oceanside first," Jensen said, "followed by a peeler run in the lower bay and then another peeler run a little farther up the bay and so on, until we get to the hot weather, when the shedding becomes pretty steady."

This year, the peeler runs have been good in the lower bay and poor in the upper waters.

But while the upper areas of the bay may be behind a little this year, Jensen said, crabbers should keep in mind that it is early in the season, even though the daily temperatures feel like August.

"Even though the season opens in April," Jensen said, "the early months are not a good indication of what will be.

"April, May and early June usually account for 10 percent of the catch, while mid-June through October account for the remaining 90 percent."

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