Friday, June 29, 2007

Connecticut's Council on Environmental Quality Says the State Isn't Doing So Great on Long Island Sound Issues

The Connecticut Council on Environmental Quality released its annual report yesterday and it says the state isn't doing so well, particularly on water quality and Long Island Sound issues. An excerpt:

Prospects for Long Island Sound are unclear. With substantial investment in sewage treatment plants, Connecticut met short-term goals for removing nitrogen from sewage. The condition of the Sound has improved but hypoxia (low levels of oxygen in the water) continues ... . Hypoxia is expected to persist at least hrough 2014, the year that Connecticut and New York have pledged to meet their ultimate nitrogen-removal goals. Beach closings have been fairly constant ... , and lobsters hit a new low in 2006,,,

The treatment of sewage is much better than it was a generation ago, and about half of the major sewer overflows were corrected by two decades of reconstruction....

State government and the shellfish industry invested several million dollars since 1987 in the improvement and monitoring of oyster beds, and the result has been a fairly constant expansion of the areas suitable for shellfish growth.... Oyster stocks were hit hard by two diseases in 1997 and 1998 and have not yet recovered.

More than 500 acres of compromised tidal wetlands have been restored to ecological health by direct action of the state and many partners since 1994. During that time, only a few acres were lost to permitted activities. (Many old unpermitted disturbances and structures remain, however.) ...

The overall result was slow and steady progress, but not enough to reach most statewide goals and not across all programs. Some of the greatest improvements have been achieved in programs that require only small amounts of public funding, such as wetlands conservation, air pollution control and industrial waste management. Meanwhile, programs that require substantial state investment are lagging.

That last sentence is a clear reference to the Clean Water Fund. A year ago I criticized the CEQ for issuing a report that ignored the state legislature's refusal to put adequate money in the Clean Water Fund and the CEQ's executive director, Karl Wagener, responded that it's been their policy to follow actual environmental trends rather than political or policy trends, which was a reasonable answer. You can read what both of us wrote, here.

The full report can be found here, and news accounts are here and here.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Catching Lobsters

Two lobstermen from Darien went out on Long Island Sound last Friday with a student who is participating in the Connecticut v-notch program. A reporter from Darien’s weekly paper, the Darien News, went along. She reported that the student

… estimated he had notched more than 150 lobsters since the previous Wednesday.

Remember, in the v-notch program the only lobsters that get notched are mature females. Lobstermen cut a small notch in the tail, throw the lobster back, and turn the notch in to the DEP for a small bounty. The idea is to give the mature females more time to successfully reproduce, thereby presumably increasing the lobster population, which was decimated in 1999 (although not by pesticides).

My point is, if the student notched 150 females in just a few days, the lobstermen probably caught and kept a similar number of males, yes? And maybe they even caught and kept some females, because you don’t have to notch their tails if you don’t want to.

Now 300-plus mature lobsters isn’t an incredible bounty. But Darien is pretty much in the heart of the area where the lobster die-off hit hardest. So 300-plus lobsters indicates that some kind of population rebound is occuring. I think. Maybe I'm grasping at straws.


Connecticut Legislators Pat Themselves on the Back But Neglect the Clean Water Fund

Connecticut legislators were practically standing in line yesterday to tell the New Haven Register what a great job they did in Hartford on environmental issues. Except of course, as the Register points out, they neglected to provide money for the Clean Water Fund and the cleanup of Long Island Sound. From the Register:

"I think we've done quite well this year," said state Rep. Richard Roy, D-Milford...

Senate committee co-chairman Sen. Bill Finch, D-Bridgeport, said that, "From biodiesel investment to school bus emissions, this budget addresses a number of the major environmental initiatives of the session."...

The environment committee's top Republican, state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, agreed. "On balance, we did a very good job," he said.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What the Long Island Sound Study Biennial Report Says and Does Not Say

The Long Island Sound Study’s biennial report on conditions in the Sound arrived in the mail the other day, at about the same time the Connecticut DEP’s summary and analysis of water quality in the Sound from last summer arrived.

I can summarize the DEP summary easily:

Hypoxia affected a larger area of the Sound last year than during the previous two summers, but it lasted for a shorter time than any summer since 2000. Here’s how Katie O’Brien-Clayton of the DEP put it:

In 2006, hypoxic conditions were estimated to have begun on 4 July and ended on 29 August, approximately 57 days. The peak event occurred in early August. The maximum area with bottom water DO less than 3.5 mg/L was 346 square miles. In 2006 the area less than 3.5 mg/L was larger than during the 2004 and 2005 seasons; however, the duration was the shortest since 2000.

She also included a bunch of graphs, from which I drew the following:

Over the last 16 years, the average number of square miles in which dissolved oxygen concentrations fell below 3.5 milligrams per liter was 188. Eight years were better than average, one was just about exactly average, and seven were worse than average. Three of those seven occurred in the last four years.

The average length of time that dissolved oxygen concentrations were below 3.5 milligrams per liter was 67 days. Eight of the last 16 years were worse than average, three were almost exactly average, and five were better than average. Five of the last six years were either worse than average or merely average.

Of course reaching an average of 188 square miles and 67 days is hardly the goal of the Long Island Sound cleanup.

Back in the mid 1990s, the folks working on the cleanup set a target for reducing nitrogen by 58.5 percent by 2014. When reached, that reduction would mean that the area in which dissolved oxygen fell below 3.5 would be reduced to 60 square miles, and the number of days in which dissolved oxygen fell below 3.5 would be reduced to three and a half.

Which brings me to what I consider an omission in the Long Island Sound Study’s biennial report: there’s no discussion at all about the actual condition of the Sound’s water. There’s a section about nitrogen reduction and a section about the amount of water quality monitoring done each year, but nowhere does it talk about whether the nitrogen reduction is resulting in an improvement in water quality. Why? Who knows. But maybe it's because the results are so inconclusive.

So there it is – in lieu of a discussion in the Long Island Sound Study’s biennial report of water quality conditions, you have my layman’s discussion of water quality conditions. Having said that, though, I should add that there’s lots of good stuff in the biennial report. Here, for example, is a long excerpt from an opening letter by Mark Tedesco, the director of the Long Island Sound Program:

What will it take to clean up Long Island Sound and restore the health of its natural resources? Simply put—creative partnerships and money. No major breakthroughs, just strategic investments of financial and human capital….

Our first challenge is to maintain, repair, and upgrade our wastewater and stormwater treatment infrastructure for existing development. Clean water does not come cheap….

The local need alone is in the billions of dollars. However, the benefits would also be enormous: more waters safe for swimming and recreation, more shellfish safe for human consumption, and healthier waters for aquatic life. The technical know-how exists. Funding is needed. …

Our second challenge is to ensure that new development is sustainable. New development simply cannot impose the same burden on the environment as past development if we expect a different environmental outcome for our streams and rivers, and for the Sound. We must develop and grow in ways that generate less polluted runoff, while protecting and restoring open space and natural habitats. The region has the human capital to accomplish this. The space to grow outward is quickly diminishing. We will need to grow up (literally and figuratively) and in. It is here where past and future investments in wastewater and transportation infrastructure can accommodate growth….

Not bad, considering that opening remarks or letters are usually a collection of platitudes. Give Mark credit for laying it on the line: we need to invest more money, and we need to stop sprawling all over the landscape and rebuild our cities (when I made the same point about how development should be concentrated in cities, in a talk to the Stamford Garden Club in April, the room erupted in a derisive guffaw).

Now here’s what the report says about nitrogen reduction:

The discharge of nitrogen from sewage treatment plants reached its peak in 1994. Since then, 39 of the region’s 104 sewage treatment plants have been upgraded to provide Biological Nutrient Removal (BNR) of nitrogen, resulting in about 40,645 fewer pounds of nitrogen per day. That’s enough nitrogen to fertilize 327,462 acres of turf for one year, an area nearly the size of the Bronx, Westchester County, and Stamford combined.

In 2005 and 2006, six nitrogen removal projects were completed at a cost of about $77 million. In addition, two interim plant upgrades were completed, and 13 other plants were undergoing construction. In spite of these actions, nitrogen loads increased by 6,000 pounds a day in 2005. New York City plants, which had been accomplishing moderate reductions of nitrogen, were “offline” during this period as a result of undergoing modernization. In addition, heavy rainstorms contributed to overcapacity problems in older plants that accept stormwater, diminishing the ability of these plants to treat nitrogen.

Both New York and Connecticut are implementing innovative programs to reduce nitrogen levels in phases by 2014. In Connecticut, communities that upgrade their plants receive nitrogen credits that are exchanged for cash through a state Nitrogen Credit Trading program. Communities that have delayed upgrades buy the credits at the exchange. The program takes into account that some plants can more cost-effectively remove nitrogen because of their size and design, or have a greater impact because of their proximity to the western Sound where hypoxia is more severe. New York’s plants are divided into five management zones. As long as each zone meets an aggregate nitrogen reduction target, all plants are in compliance. Every five years, the permitted aggregate nitrogen target is reduced for the zone, requiring more plant upgrades to go on-line.

Again, good stuff. The nitrogen reduction program seems to be moving along just fine, the increase in recent years is easily attributable to New York City (and probably understandable), and (based on what it says elsewhere in the report) the city is making progress on its own relaxed-schedule nitrogen removal program (that’s my phrase, based on the fact that the city agreed to meet its nitrogen reduction goal in 2017, three years after everyone else.

Here’s the link to the biennial report.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Connecticut Clean Water Fund Limbo (How Low Can You Go?)

Connecticut legislators have agreed on a budget, but have they decided what to do about the Clean Water Fund and the bonding package it's supposed to be included in, which, as you may remember, they've neglected for years, thus jeopardizing Connecticut's portion of the Long Island Sound cleanup? Here's what a correspondent of mine tells me:

Despite the budget being finalized by the General Assembly (and expectations that the governor will sign it) there is no bond package because they are looking at making significant changes in state bonding action ... this means Clean Water Fund is still in limbo.

Background info here and here.


Federal Court in Maryland Says Coastal Zone Rules Trump LNG Plant

A federal court in Maryland has ruled that Baltimore County can restrict where a liquefied natural gas terminal is built in Chesapeake Bay because the restrictions are part of the county’s coastal zone management plan. The ruling says:

...this Court noted that the 2005 amendments to the Natural Gas Act expressly reserve to the states their rights pursuant to three environmental statutes: the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 …, the Clean Air Act …, and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act…

Why is this important? If New York State decides to put the kibosh on Broadwater’s LNG proposal for Long Island Sound, it will do so under the authority granted bu the Coastal Zone Management Act (there's more here). Of course that’s a big “if” still. Here's the court decision. Thanks to Adrienne at CCE for alerting me (and others).

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Monday, June 25, 2007

"The Rich Are Different From You and Me '...'Yes, They Have Bigger Boats'

Good headline here, on a story about the wealthy and their boats on Long Island Sound.

EPA's Estuary Report Says that Toxins are Still a Problem in the Sound

Terry Backer, who has been the Soundkeeper for two decades, points out another surprise of the EPA's National Estuary Program Coastal Condition report: toxins in the sediments of Long Island Sound are still a serious problem. That's a surprise to me, because 22 years ago, when the Long Island Sound Study was just getting underway, the original focus was on low concentrations of dissolved oxygen and toxic contamination.

But the latter concern was quickly dropped from the study because, officials said at the time, the problem of heavy metals and DDT and PCBs in the Sound's mud and sands was too small and too localized to be a widespread concern. But the Coastal Condition Report says the opposite. Here's what Terry says, in this morning's Stamford Advocate:

"I know there is legacy contamination from a heavy industrial time," Backer said. But "this is screaming at us that there is still something wrong. . . . If you want to stop the insidious corruption of the Sound, then you have to get at the polluted toxic stormwater."

I'm quoted in the story as well, saying that until New York City upgrades its sewage treatment plants, the dissolved oxygen problem isn't going to improve very much.

I also should add that when I wrote about the EPA report last week, I said that the Sound was rated fair. That was clearly wrong and I'm not sure how I made the mistake. But to clarify: the Sound's rating ws poor.

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Migrating Eels

On the Mianus River, in Greenwich, people are working not only to help alewives swim upstream to spawn, but to help eels get downstream the Long Island Sound and then the Atlantic Ocean to spawn (American eels are catadromous, the opposite of anadromous alewives, shad, etc.) But what could the Greenwich Time reporter possibly mean when he writes this:

The Mianus River Dam, where alewives reach freshwater each April, also plays a crucial role in the lives of the Western hemisphere's only freshwater eels.

At first I thought he was saying the only freshwater eels were in the Mianus. But more likely he means American e
els are the only freshwater eels in the Western Hemisphere. In any case, here's more about the eel situation:

A net hanging over the dam serves as a ladder that baby, or "glass," eels use to climb back into the freshwater. The eels remain for about 10 years in the Mianus Pond, then head out of the Long Island Sound to the Atlantic Ocean once they're mature enough to spawn.

Threatened by overfishing, hydropower plants, dams and other obstructions, the American eel recently came under consideration by the federal Fish and Wildlife Service for endangered species status.

"We're seeing fewer in Connecticut and throughout the entire (northeast) range," said Rick Jacobson, assistant director of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection's Inland Fisheries Division. "The concern is manmade dams and other barriers to fish passage, both in terms of moving upstream and downstream. Because of their migratory pathways, they frequently go through turbines or filter systems into water supply reservoirs. That, and overall degradation of habitat."

Nets are a primary way that conservation officials help eels circumnavigate barriers such as dams.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Here's How Other Nearby Estuaries Were Rated

Long Island Sound was rated poor* in the National Estuary Program Coastal Condition report that I wrote about yesterday, and estuaries in the northeast in general were rated poor. How about other specific estuaries near us? Here's how they rated:

Peconic Bays -- good
Narragansett Bay -- poor
New York/New Jersey Harbor -- poor
Barnegat Bay -- fair

I should point out that the report covered only estuaries in EPA's National Estuary Program. Chesapeake Bay, which has been studied and worked on for longer than the National Estuary Program has been in existence, isn't included, nor are Long Island's South Bays.

* Correction: I originally wrote that the Sound was "fair."


Slow Growth on Block Island

Almost everyone on Block Island wants to see more land protected, less development, and smaller houses. At least that's what the Nature Conservancy learned when it took a public opinion poll recently. From the Block Island Times:

A telephone survey last month found that support for preserving more Block Island land as open space has grown over the past six years, from 87 percent of voters asked in a 2001 poll to a staggering 90 percent now....

Growth was a serious issue for many respondents, with 63 percent saying the island is being developed too fast, up slightly - 2 percent - from 2001. The number who think the island is being developed at a rate that is good for the community dropped slightly, from 33 percent to 30 percent.

Long-time residents of the island, people born here and those aged 51 to 60 were most likely to see a problem.

Growth, development and overcrowding are actually hurting the quality of life on the island, 70 percent of those polled agreed.

There aren't a whole lot of other details about the method of the survey, but the fact that it was conducted in mid May indicates to me that it is year-round residents who support more land protection. Almost half the island is protected from development, which is amazing.

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Power to the Ospreys

If an osprey nest somehow knocked out power in my neighborhood, I'd say fine, we're taking one for the team. Amazing as it seems, that's what happened yesterday in Seymour, which is in the Naugatuck Valley. Here's how the Connecticut Post put it:

Instead of humans disturbing nature, nature disrupted humans Wednesday when an osprey nest touched a power line, knocking out power to about 1,160 Connecticut Light & Power customers for about three hours.

Neither the baby birds nor their mother was injured, and CL&P crews cut back the nest, Al Lara, a company spokesman, said Wednesday night.

The nest was built on a pole in a rural spot near Chamberlain Road, and Walnut, Spring and Pearl streets, Lara said.

My guess from looking at a map is that the ospreys are nesting near the Peat Swamp Reservoir. Good luck to them.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Way We Treat Our Estuaries

For anyone who follows the issue even slightly, the U.S. EPA’s report, issued earlier this month, on the condition of 28 estuaries in the National Estuary Program isn’t all that shocking. It concludes that, in general, the estuaries are in fair condition, and that estuaries in the northeast are in poor condition. We know that, of course: we live near Long Island Sound and we read about Narragansett Bay and Barnegat Bay and all the other places.

But even though the conclusion is not a surprise, the report is worth looking at, as a reminder of what we’ve done to places like the Sound and Chesapeake Bay – namely we’ve decided we’re going to crowd onto their coasts, change a good portion of their natural habitats into urban and suburban developments, and then dump our waste into them. All this of course while acknowledging that estuaries are among the most biologically productive ecosystems on the planet.

The study, called the National Estuary Program Coastal Condition report, divides U.S. estuaries geographically and rates them on water quality, the quality of sediments, the variety of life living on the bottom, and the amount of toxins in their fish. Like the northeast, Puerto Rico’s estuaries are also rated as poor. Gulf Coast and west coast estuaries are in fair condition, and southeast coast estuaries are good.

There’s a clear correlation between the condition of estuaries in a region and population density. The two areas with poor ratings have the highest population density -- Puerto Rico, with 5,055 people per square mile, and the northeast, with 1,055. Densities in the fair and good regions are far less – 421 people per square mile on the west coast, 287 on the Gulf coast, and 168 on the southeast coast.

The real bad news is that if population density is the cause – and who believes that it isn’t? – declining water quality is the future for the other regions as well, because that’s where population growth is the highest: a 133 percent growth rate for the Gulf Coast, 131 percent for the southeast coast, and 100 percent for the west coast. For those of us in the northeast, growth is slower – 24 percent – but of course the horse is already out of the barn here.

On Long Island Sound, the report summarizes what we know – that water quality is poor*, based on concentrations of dissolved nitrogen and phosphorus, on chlorophyll-a, on water clarity (all of which are generally good), and dissolved oxygen:

A large area of the Sound had depleted levels of dissolved oxygen in bottom waters, with 47% of the estuarine area rated fair for this component indicator and 10% of the area rated poor.

Sediment quality is considered poor, as is the diversity of life on the bottom (the benthic community), and the amount of contaminants in fish. Generally things are worse in the western end of the Sound and better as you move east, but that pattern didn’t hold with benthic diversity:

The east to west gradient that was noticeable in other parameters is absent in the results for the benthic index. Rather, the best results are clustered in the western and central portions of the Sound, and the poorest results are grouped in the nearshore waters and tributaries in New York and Connecticut.

You can find the whole thing, divided into PDFs for each estuary, here.

* This is a correction. I originally wrote that the Sound was rated fair. I'm not sure how I made that mistake -- the report clearly said "poor," in my mind I knew it was poor, and yet I typed "fair." Sam, down in south Texas, pointed out the mistake.


When the Tankers Arrive, the Bay Shuts Down

From Narragansett Bay, here's a glimpse of the future for recreational mariners (and probably commercial fishermen too) who use the eastern half of Long Island Sound: when a huge tanker -- carrying propane rather than the liquefied natural gas that will be going to the Broadwater terminal -- steamed up the bay the other evening, the Coast Guard essentially shut down the bay. The Jamestown Press reported:

"I called in the location and start of the races to Castle Hill Coast Guard station at 6 p.m. like I always do to let them know where we're racing," Dick Allphin, the race committee boat captain said. He said that the Coast Guard called back a couple of minutes later to warn him that a tanker would be coming through in an hour or so. Allphin said he thought they could finish before the tanker showed up, but the security boats were clearing the area a few minutes after 7 p.m. and "we were forced to abort the races."

"The security zone is two miles ahead of the tanker, one mile behind, and 1000-yards on either side," Allphin said. "With an area that large surrounding the tanker, there's no room in the bay for anyone else. Plus, they have to close down the Newport Bridge. It seems to me that they could schedule the tankers to come through the bay when it doesn't inconvenience so many people," he added.

Meanwhile in Washington, Long Island Congressman Tim Bishop tried unsuccessfully to get legislation passed that would have required the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to hold off on a Broadwater decision until more studies are completed, here.

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Again With the Pesticides and the Lobsters!

Amazingly, the pesticide myth popped up again in an article in the Stamford Times about the v-notch program Connecticut has started in an effort togive female lobsters a couple of extra years to breed:

... Frate said parts of the Sound have experienced smaller die-offs, which he links to continuing pesticide use.

"They spray it by helicopter. They put that stuff directly into the storm drains," he said. "We saw more dead lobsters last year. This West Nile scare. It just keeps bringing it back."

So as a friendly reminder, I'll repeat the quote from the government report on the lobster die-off that was released last year (the link and citation are here):

Sixty-five scientists at 30 institutions and agencies nationwide participated in the research initiative, investigating the effects of environmental factors, mosquito control pesticides, and disease on the physiology and health of American lobsters. The results indicate that the physiology of the lobsters was severely stressed by sustained, hostile environmental conditions, driven by above- average water temperatures. A new lobster disease, paramoebiasis, was identified as the proximate cause of death for the majority of lobsters examined by pathologists. Laboratory studies demonstrated that the pesticides used for mosquito control have sub-lethal or lethal effects on lobsters, based on concentration and time of exposure; however, modeling exercises indicate it is unlikely that the concentrations of individual pesticides in western Long Island Sound were high enough to cause the mortality event.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Pesticide Myth and Long Island Sound's Lobster Die-Off

Lobstermen, who no doubt are hard-working and well-meaning, continue to peddle the myth that Long Island Sound's lobster die-off in 1999 was caused primarily by the spraying of pesticides in New York City to control West Nile virus. Gullible newspaper reporters continue to put the lobstermen's assertion into news accounts without challenging it and without performing the simplest Google search to see if there's any merit to it. Here's an example, from a mildly interesting story in today's New Haven Register about the price of lobster:

Lobsters taken fresh from Long Island Sound are few and far between these days after a mass die-out in 1999 that wiped out nearly 80 percent of the lobsters living there.

Though an official cause of the die-off has not been found, local lobstermen have their own ideas about what killed their livelihood.

Nick Crismale, president of the Connecticut Commercial Lobstermen's Association, said the die-off was caused by the spraying of pesticides targeting West Nile virus-carrying mosquitoes. The pesticides were sprayed in New York and eventually washed into the Sound.

Did you get that? If not, let me repeat for emphasis: though an official cause of the die-off has not been found...

Unfortunately that's not true. Scientists have known since 2004 that pesticides were not the primary cause of the die-off and probably were only a very small factor in a small area of the Sound, namely the far western end. They said as much in an official report, which came out about a year ago and which you can download here. The executive summary of the report says:

Sixty-five scientists at 30 institutions and agencies nationwide participated in the research initiative, investigating the effects of environmental factors, mosquito control pesticides, and disease on the physiology and health of American lobsters. The results indicate that the physiology of the lobsters was severely stressed by sustained, hostile environmental conditions, driven by above- average water temperatures. A new lobster disease, paramoebiasis, was identified as the proximate cause of death for the majority of lobsters examined by pathologists. Laboratory studies demonstrated that the pesticides used for mosquito control have sub-lethal or lethal effects on lobsters, based on concentration and time of exposure; however, modeling exercises indicate it is unlikely that the concentrations of individual pesticides in western Long Island Sound were high enough to cause the mortality event.

Again, for emphasis:
it is unlikely that the concentrations of individual pesticides in western Long Island Sound were high enough to cause the mortality event.

So who are you going to believe, 65 scientists, or Nick Crismale?

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Things Going on in Westchester's Portion of the Sound

The "Aboard the Soundwaters" dateline is a bit much, but otherwise Ken Valenti's makes the most out of a trip on a schooner with some school kids. Until I read his story, here, I didn't realize, for example, that spider crabs were also called decorator crabs.

Ken also pens a profile of the Queens City of the Sound, here.

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Let Me Tell You About This Really Big Fish I Caught...

Is it just me or is there something unseemly about catching and killing the biggest animal you can find and then bragging about it? I realize that a lot of these (here and here) were probably caught and released, but some of them were keepers no doubt. Let's at least hope the people who cooked them knew what they were doing


Friday, June 15, 2007

"Don't Sweat the Clean Water Fund Money"

No action yet in Hartford on the Clean Water Fund, but Soundkeeper/Legislator Terry Backer tells me not to worry. He told me in an e-mail:

... don't sweat the clean water fund money. I am pretty sure it's a lock. [Senator Bill] Finch and I worked with the Finance committee to get the money in and everyone including the Governor wanted it.

So we'll see.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Lobstermen Might Catch a Tax Break

Here in New York we subsidize, through property tax breaks, people who donate land for conservation, farmers (even gentlemen farmers who do it just for the tax breaks), land owners who engage in certain forestry practices (such as the Aquarion Water Company, which supplies water to lots of Connecticut cities, owns 1,300 acres in my town and pays a fraction of what it would normally pay in property taxes because of its forestry program), and probably others who I can't think of right now.

In Connecticut, the Legislature wants to subsidize through a property tax break, people who fish for lobsters for a living. Here's how the New London Day explained it:

...this spring the legislature cut some of those lobstermen a break, changing state law to require that waterfront residential property used by commercial lobstermen for their work is taxed at a lower rate.

The new law would allow licensed commercial lobstermen to apply to local assessors to have their property classified as “maritime heritage land” — meaning it is valued for tax purposes according to its current use, not the highest value a developer or purely residential owner could expect for the property.

That, supporters say, will help hold down property taxes for the few remaining lobstermen who own waterfront property in the fishing villages of southeastern Connecticut....

While it would cut into revenue to towns, the bill is unlikely to cause much angst, said Lee Vincent, an assistant to the town manager in Groton, since it is limited to full-time commercial lobstermen and narrowly targeted to land and buildings used to support fishing.

A study by the legislature's nonpartisan Office of Legislative Research estimates that just “one or two” lobstermen in each coastal town would qualify for the tax break.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Bye-Bye to Another Modern House

[Read 'Modern,' our new blog about mid-century modern houses, here.]

When I get to work in the morning my wife e-mails me stories from the Times that I've missed because I spent too much time with the sports section. Remember the deal (
here) where two guys were going to buy a Paul Rudolph house on the beach in Rhode Island to save it from demolition and then move it to the Catskills? Well, no dice. The guys from the city prepared the land in the Catskills but when they went to get the house, they found that some of it had been changed beyond what they were willing to accept. So say bye-bye to another modern house.

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Lobbying Governor Spitzer on Broadwater

The enviros who went to Albany yesterday to lobby against the Broadwater LNG proposal didn't meet with Spitzer but they did encounter him nonetheless and apparently left Albany pleased with what transpired. Emmett Pepper, whoworks for Citizens Campaign for the Environment, sent me this:

We weren't *given* an audience with the Governor, but we (Anti-Broadwater Coalition) did get one with him. He was at the dairy industry event near our press conference in the LOB [Legislative Office Building] and when his event was over, we went down and got into the mob of reporters that appears to follow him around. We were able to land two questions. One from Dick Amper of the Long Island Pine Barrens Soc. and one from Bill Cooke of CCE. Neither offered any surprises. The quote you had [here, in yesterday's post] was actually in response to Amper's question or it could have been a follow-up from someone else.

On a side note, we chanted, "Governor Spitzer, We need your help, Say No To Broadwater" (or something similar) during a quiet spot in the other event and he apparently heard us, since he made mention of it when responding to Bill Cooke.

It was one of the more fun lobby days I've had in Albany, to be sure.

Here's today's Newsday story. You'll note from reading the first sentence that the reporter apparently thinks Broadwater's LNG terminal already exists.

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Clammers Busted on Smithtown Bay

When cops bust commercial fishermen for taking clams from polluted waters should we be worried that dangerous shellfish might be getting to the market or relieved that the law is working? Maybe both, I guess. Four commercial fishermen were arrested recently for taking 14 bags of clams from Smithtown Bay. Newsday says,

That part of Smithtown Bay, near the mouth of the Nissequogue River, is closed to shellfish harvesting to prevent people from ingesting accumulated bacteria and viruses associated with sewage.

Nice, huh? The guys arrested were (again, from Newsday):

[Richard] Voorhees, 47, of East Northport, Laurence Kokell, 53, of Northport, Joshua Kokell, 33, of East Northport, and William Kokell, 38, of Asharoken, were all charged with taking shellfish from uncertified waters. Voorhees was also charged with failure to possess a valid shell digger permit. The charges are all misdemeanors punishable by fines of up to $5,000 and or a year in jail. If convicted, the clammers could get their licenses revoked, DEC officials said.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Spitzer's Broadwater Criteria: Environment, Security, Energy

Broadwater opponents, led by Citizens Campaign for the Environment, took their case to Albany today. They apparently didn't get an audience with Governor Spitzer (and maybe they didn't ask for one or expect one) but reporters asked him about it. Here's what he said:

"What you look at, at the end of the day, is the environmental impact, the security impact, the energy impact. These are issues that are critical to the state and the basis on which I will make a decision."


Friday, June 08, 2007

Rivermen Find a Chinese Mitten Crab in the Hudson

The Hudson River Almanac just arrived in my e-mail box and the first thing I saw was a note about Chinese mitten crabs in the Hudson. As I noted yesterday, here, I've been seeing reports of these presumed-invasive crabs in papers that cover the Chesapeake and Delaware regions. The Hudson River Almanac is written and compiled by Tom Lake and Steve Stanne of New York State's Hudson River Estuary Program. Here's what they had to say:

6/3 - Nyack, HRM 27: When Mike Frank hauled Captain Bob Gabrielson's crab pot over the gunnel of their boat near the Tappan Zee Bridge, he knew they had caught something different. Among the dozen blue crabs was an alien, an adult male Chinese mitten crab. The mitten crab, so-called for what appear to be furry mittens on its claws, was the same size as the number one jimmy crabs in the trap.
- Tom Lake

[The Chinese mitten crab is native to estuaries of China where it is highly regarded in the market. Mitten crabs are catadromous, meaning that they spend much of their life in freshwater, then return to higher salinities in the lower estuary (15-20 parts per thousand salt) to reproduce. The salinity gradients of east coast estuaries like the Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, and Hudson River are nearly ideal for them. Adult mitten crabs have a carapace width of about 3", but their legs are almost twice that length, giving them a spider crab look.
Unlike the native blue crab, mitten crabs are burrowing crabs, similar to our mud crabs only many times larger. They have a generalist diet, and their potential ecological impact on east coast estuaries is still unknown.

The Chinese mitten crab was inadvertently introduced to Europe in the 1930s and is now widespread. The first U.S. specimen was caught in San Francisco Bay in 1993, though it may have been there earlier. The species appeared on the Atlantic coast in Chesapeake Bay in 2005. One more followed in 2006, and another this year. Already, 4 mitten crabs have been collected from Delaware Bay this year. All 7 of these crabs, like the one from the Hudson, have been males.

The Marine Invasions Lab at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland, is working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources in monitoring their presence.

It is illegal to import mitten crabs into the United States, but there is genetic evidence that the east coast mitten crabs arrived here from Europe via commercial traffic, much like zebra mussel did.

If you encounter a mitten crab in New York State, please notify Leslie Surprenant, NYSDEC Invasive Species Management Coordinator at (518) 402-8980 or . Also notify Carin D. Ferrante, Smithsonian Mitten Crab Coordinator Do not release them alive! If you have a camera, take both dorsal (top) and ventral (bottom) views so we can determine its sex. Tom Lake.]

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Long Island Sound Assignment Desk

Here are some assignments for local reporters:

Judy Benson reported in the New London Day today (here) that the firm the New York State Department of State hired to look for alternative sites for a floating liquefied natural gas terminal believes that the Atlantic Ocean might be a better location than Long Island Sound. We need to know, however, just how influential it will be with the state officials who are trying to decide whether to give Broadwater the go-ahead? Is it ample ammunition for the Department of State to decline to issue a coastal zone consistency permit? Is it the cover the Governor Spitzer needs to say no?

There were stories in the Connecticut papers today about the end of the legislative session in Hartford and of the budget battle between the governor and the Legislature. But what happened to the Clean Water Fund? Legislators and Governor Rell paid a lot of lip service to it earlier this year, but thus far nothing has been approved. Will Connecticut again evade its responsibility to help clean up Long Island Sound?

Speaking of which, what is Westchester County’s plan for nitrogen removal at its four Sound shore sewage treatment plants?

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Help Sea Turtles Make it to the Sea

Twenty years ago I wrote a magazine article about Kemp’s ridleys, the rarest of the world’s seven sea turtles. They had been found in Long Island Sound and, with one thing leading to another, I ended up writing a piece about them for a now-defunct magazine called … I forget, actually. In any case, back then, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was in the very early stages of a program to establish a new nesting area, on the Gulf Coast of Texas, as insurance against something happening to the ridleys’ main nesting beach, in Mexico. They were hatching turtles under controlled conditions, I think, and then releasing them from the beach at Padre Island National Seashore, in hopes that they’d return there to nest. But as of 20 years ago, none had.

That was then. Last year there were 102 female Kemp’s ridleys returned to the beach to nest. And hatchlings are still being raised and escorted to the sea. If you like south Texas in summer, you can go help (Sam, how’s the weather down there in mid-summer?) Details are here, in the Times Escapes section. There’s also a lot more here, in a chapter of my book that I wrote and then decided to leave out.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Defending Rachel Carson

I love the New York Times and rarely complain about it, but I admit to finding John Tierney's contrarianism tiresome, to say the least. I'm not a Rachel Carson student by any means and I knew when I read Tierney's column the other day in which he attacked her and Silent Spring, that I wasn't going to bother figuring out what was wrong with his argument. Thankfully other, better bloggers did that for me.

One of them is Keith Schneider, a former Times enviro reporter. Schneider begins and ends his post, here, by criticizing the big environmental groups for not challenging the Big Industry PR that has attacked Carson, presumably because her work led to the banning of DDT. Then he writes about his own experience as a reporter:

Pesticide use has resulted in mass killings of songbirds and wildlife, and the poisoning of farm and industrial workers. I personally reported on the consequences to production workers in Lathrop, California in the 1980s who were left sterile because of their exposure to the pesticide DBCP during its manufacture. I reported on the incidence of young children who’d been born deaf in a California community where the drinking water supply had been contamined by DBCP and other toxic farm chemicals.

I tracked through the forests of western North Carolina in the early 1980s, identifying uncommon rates of death and illness in communities exposed to the defoliants 2,4-D and picloram, which were used to kill broad-leafed trees. The mix of 2,4-D and picloram, by the way, was sprayed in Vietnam, was known as Agent White, and was used to clear forests where Agent Orange didn’t work. A military study of the effects of Agent White, which I found in the library of Auburn University in Alabama, said that Hmong tribes exposed to the defoliant displayed levels of cancer and birth defects far in excess of neighboring communities that weren’t exposed.

So you can’t tell me that Rachel Carson’s reporting inspired “chemophobia” as Tierney charges, or is exaggerated or untrue. What he does is focus the knife edge of an eloquent rhetorical attack on the outer membrane of Carson’s reporting, such as the predictions she made that haven’t come to pass — a big loss of robins, for instance. He doesn’t note that such a prediction might well have come to pass, and fortunately hasn’t, because several of the most toxic compounds she critiqued, especially DDT, have been banned for agricultural use.

Strong words, in my opinion, considering that Schneider and Tierney were colleagues.

Tim Lambert, who blogs for Science Blogs, asks here how Tierney got things so wrong:

Well, look at his references. Katherine Mangu-Ward, who wrote that Carson was indirectly responsible fro millions of malaria deaths. John Berlau, who lied about what Carson wrote and who claims that not only did environmentalist kill all those people, but that it was a deliberate plan. Tina Rosenberg, who reckons that Silent Spring is killing African children. Steve Milloy and Gordon Edwards at, who write how DDT is harmless to birds. Ronald Bailey, who blames Carson for millions of deaths from malaria. And Gregg Easterbrook's A Moment of Earth.

Mark Lytle, a professor up at Bard (about which more here) and author of a study of Carson and her life, points out at Oxford University Press's blog, here, that Carson was shining a light on risk that very few people were aware of:

The public had a right to know that these chemicals posed potential risks. She had no need to extol their virtues because the Department of Agriculture and agricultural chemical industry had spent tens of millions touting them as safe and beneficial. Tierney makes no mention of the hundreds of scientists who contributed to Silent Spring and vetted Carson’s chapters.


Another Crab to Watch Out For, and Maybe to Eat

I've been following this one for a few days, in newspapers in Delaware and on the Chesapeake: watermen are finding more and more Chinese mitten crabs, a non-native species that may (or may not) procreate and become invasive, the way Asian shore crabs have.

The Asian shore crabs were first found in Delaware Bay in 1988. By last November the Times was reporting that they had virtually taken over the mid-Atlantic and New England coastal area, here.

I've joked that the Asian shore crab problem would be easy to solve if they were edible. Interestingly, the Journal News in Delaware reports about Chinese mitten crabs:

The crabs, named for their tufted claws, are commonly farm-raised in east Asia for food...

A couple of research visits to Chinatown, or here, might yield a suitable way to keep the Chinese mitten crab population in check.


The Glass House Over the Years and In the Words of Johnson's Guests

[Read 'Modern,' our new blog about mid-century modern houses, here.]

We're still getting e-mails promoting the inaugural gala picnic at the Glass House on June 23 ($500 per person is the cheapest you can get in for, so we're not attending unless someone invites us). Meanwhile the Times today takes a good long look at the Glass House over the years, with snippets of quotes from people who knew Philip Johnson and visited the house through the decades. And there are some terrific photos, including one of Warhol looking out the window and another of the house at night, the trees lit from below, and with a man standing over a kitchen counter, a woman sitting in a Barcelona chair, and another man -- maybe Johnson, judging from what looks like Johnson-esque eyeglasses -- wearing a robe and talking on the telephone,

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

On Blogging

If you want to know what I think of my blog and its influence, you can click here and read a story on blogging in a Long Island magazine called Canvas. The writer, Adina Genn, whom I talked to on the phone a month or so ago, made a small number of mistakes (the spelling of my last name, the reason I started blogging, and the number of years that Connecticut put money in its Clean Water Fund) and slightly exaggerated what I think was my influence on the Clean Water Fund debate, but otherwise got it right.

It's shocking, by the way, to see in print how many people look at this blog. Sad, in a way, although no doubt the numbers are small in proportion to my influence.

Wednesday second thoughts: I'm feeling guilty for sounding just a bit ungrateful to Adina by mentioning the few mistakes so prominently. Let me say again that it was a good story and she did a good, diligent job, and I appreciate it that she included me.

Baltimore, Where the Fish Are Dying

Here's a bad start to the summer, down on Chesapeake Bay: dead fish, algal blooms, and no dissolved oxygen in Baltimore's inner harbor. From the Baltimore Sun.


Monday, June 04, 2007

Fishing for Horseshoe Crabs

I wouldn't be upset if I went to a dock or a beach and saw a fisherman loading a truck with lobsters or crabs. I like visiting the town docks in Stonington, or Point Judith, Rhode Island, and watching the trawlers, and I like visiting good fish markets to look at the bins of dead fish. One of the best mornings I spent as a reporter was with Dan Dzenkowski, a pound net fisherman from Greenport, which I wrote about here. And I'm always immensely satisfied when I can fill a small bucket with clams from Block Island's Great Salt Pond. So should I be upset if fishermen are grabbing horseshoe crabs and filling the backs of pickup trucks with them?

Some people are upset by it, as I wrote about here, but it's hard for me to see the difference between lobstering, for example, and taking horseshoe crabs. I'm not overly suspicious of government regulations and regulators, although I agree that they should be watched. So if a responsible government agency is regulating the taking of horseshoe crabs (as the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has done), and if their rule-making has been done publicly, I don't have a huge problem with it. This organization seems to agree. I'm even encouraged a bit when the cops nail a bunch of people for allegedly harvesting crabs illegally, which is what happpened recently on Long Island, when 10 guys got busted, as Newsday reported, here.


Friday, June 01, 2007

Fishing for Horseshoe Crabs in West Haven

The horseshoe crab mating season and fishing season has begun, which raises all kinds of issues about the conservation of marine life, the conservation of birds (particularly red knots, which rely on horseshoe crab eggs for food) and the protection of commercial fisheries, as I wrote about here. Last night I got an e-mail about horseshoe crabs from someone I don't know. She told me that last Sunday evening she was on the beach in West Haven and "had a very upsetting experience." At 6 p.m., it turns out, the horseshoe crab season opened and people began arriving to start the harvest:

They filled up an entire pickup truck with horseshoe crabs. It was filled so high, anyone walking by could see the pile emerging from the back of the truck. I felt helpless and it makes me so sad because they have ALL been taken out of the water. If you go down there, you will not find ONE horseshoe crab. I am in the process of trying to understand why were they allowed to do this.

I called the DEP on Sunday, and I also left a message today with a woman there with hopes that she can explain to me why was it ok to do that.

When I go down the beach, and the tide is in, I like to look out for any horseshoe crab that has been turned over on its back, and then flip it back over. As I got out of my car, I saw a little girl looking at one that was flipped. I walked over to it, turned it back over and started talking to the girl about horseshoe crabs. A few minutes later, these 2 kids came onto the beach and started grabbing ALL of the attached pairs out of the water and just throwing them onto the sand (so you can see their poor legs kicking). I asked one of them what was he going to do with them and he said that they use them as bait. The little girl had her whole family come over as we watched helpless and confused [about] what to do. They were then throwing them in coolers and then dumping them into the back of a pickup truck. I was so upset, and didn't know what I had the right to do.

I went up to a cop and told him of the situation and referred me to the DEP. I called the DEP's emergency line and explained the situation to a gentlemen. I waited almost an hour and no one showed up. My sister's friend called the DEP again for me, and this time was told that as of 6 p.m. it was fishing season. On Monday night, they were down there again. The older man, who later showed up with the 2 boys on Sunday, actually had one of those flashlights that attached around his forehead as he searched into the tide. I couldn't stay.

After I wrote about horseshoe crabs 11 days ago I received a rather ungracious, mean-spirited and irrational e-mail from a fellow who apparently thinks he's a good advocate for horseshoe crab protection. On his website, which I'm not going to link to, he reprints a letter that Eric Smith, the head of the DEP's marine fisheries division, wrote to him, explaining how Connecticut and other states on the Atlantic are trying to balance horseshoe crab protection with horseshoe crab fishing. Here's what Eric said:

Marine fisheries management is part resource protection and part resource use. No one should be surprised at this observation. It has always been so. On the east coast, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is responsible for the preparation of interstate fishery management plans to rebuild or sustain resources and fisheries.

The Delaware Bay issue before the Commission last spring appeared to be intractable. The red knot is in low abundance and the birds depend on horseshoe crab eggs as a preferred food source. Conch and eel fishermen depend on horseshoe crabs for bait. It appeared that a moratorium on the taking of horseshoe crabs was the only answer, in effect, having to eliminate the fishery in the hopes that the decline of the red knot would be reversed, even though there was no guarantee that this action would result in the desired outcome.

Then, a fisherman (or dealer) came up with an alternative. He proposed that the Commission delay the opening of the season until after red knots had left the beaches to continue on their northward migration. He also proposed preventing the taking of female horseshoe crabs at any time.

This plan, to me, did two things: it maximized the opportunity for “eggs on the beach” at the time the red knot was on Delaware Bay beaches, and it protected female crabs even after the birds had departed, to enhance their availability the following season. The Commission's Horseshoe Crab Technical Committee concluded that the complete moratorium did not have any greater probability of rebuilding horseshoe crabs or red knots relative to the delayed opening/male-only fishery. In the committee's view, either option produced a slight benefit to horseshoe crabs; there was no apparent difference between the two. The committee also noted that there had been a significant increase in immature female crabs since 2003 (after establishment of a large protected area off the mouth of Delaware Bay) and that augured well for both the horseshoe crab and the red knot. Finally, Dr. Carl Shuster, a noted horseshoe crab researcher in the Mid-Atlantic (and for whom the Dr. Carl N. Shuster, Jr. Horseshoe Crab Sanctuary was named), spoke favorably about the male-only alternative.

To me, that was a reasoned solution to a seemingly intractable problem. It protected an important resource during a time and in a way that maximized the opportunity for the red knot to benefit, and it preserved some measure of a regulated horseshoe crab fishery, for the benefits it provides.

It’s a challenge to try to satisfy the interests of people with disparate views. The fact that a member of the fishing public came up with the Delaware Bay strategyI eventually advocated for and the Commission overwhelmingly approved is a great example of how cooperative fisheries management can work. On reflection, I hope you will agree.

Regarding your statement about the horseshoe crab fishery in Connecticut, please allow me to correct what I believe to be a technical inaccuracy in your statement. You state that "Over 80% have been harvested out of CT waters." The most recent horseshoe crab stock assessment found that "...four of five indices in western Long Island Sound showed significant or marginally significant positive trends. No trend was detected in eastern Long Island Sound." The ASMFC Fishery Management Plan Review states that "For the second consecutive year, coastwide bait landings were less than one million crabs in 2005. Preliminary reported bait landings were over 75% below reference period landings." This was a coastwide number and perhaps that is the source of the confusion. However, this does not indicate a decline in resource abundance of this magnitude. For example, the plan review indicates that "The redesigned Delaware Bay spawning survey showed that spawning activity has been stable or slightly declining from 1999 to 2005." It may be, therefore, that the declining landings are a consequence of reduced quotas and other restrictions on the fishery required by the plan. In any case, the statement regarding Connecticut waters does not appear to be supported by the plan review document.

As for how, where and when people can fish for horseshoe crabs, here's what the state rules say. To me they appear to be fairly restrictive, but I have no idea whether they are working well or not:


In order to engage in the horseshoe crab hand-harvest fishery, a person must possess both:

1. a valid commercial license that allows the hand-harvest of horseshoe crabs (either a Commercial Finfish License or a Commercial Horseshoe Crab Hand Harvest License), and

2. a Horseshoe Crab Hand-Harvest Endorsement Letter bearing the license holder’s name.

Both of these items must be immediately available for inspection by law enforcement officers when engaged in the hand-harvest of horseshoe crabs.

Endorsement Letters:

Horseshoe Crab Hand-Harvest Endorsement Letters will be issued annually only to fishermen who possessed a commercial license that allowed the hand harvest of horseshoe crabs during the horseshoe crab open season in at least one year from 1999 through 2006, and who reported in their Commercial Fisheries Catch Logbooks the hand-harvest and landings of horseshoe crabs during at least one of those open seasons....

Commercial Fishery Season:

No person shall harvest horseshoe crabs from the waters of this state or, regardless of where such animals are taken, possess live horseshoe crabs on the waters of this state or on any parcel of land, structure, or portion of a roadway abutting tidal waters of this state from July 8 of any year through May 21 of the next year, inclusive. During the open period from May 22 through July 7, inclusive, no person shall take horseshoe crabs on the waters or shores of this state or on any parcel of land, structure, or portion of a roadway abutting tidal waters of this state from 06:00 pm on any Friday through 06:00 pm on the following Sunday, inclusive (weekend closure).

Closed Areas:

No person shall engage in the hand-harvest of horseshoe crabs from the following areas:

(1) Menunketesuck Island in Westbrook; and

(2) the region known as Sandy Point in West Haven from the West Haven boat ramp on Beach Street south to, and clockwise around said point, including the breakwater, tidal flats and embayment and southeastern facing barrier beach to the groin adjacent to the intersection of Beach Street and Morse Avenue; and

(3) the region known as Milford Point in Milford, Connecticut, including all beaches and adjacent sand bars and tidal flats to the west of, and including, the spit that lies south-southeast of the southern terminus of Francis Street.

Possession Limit:

In the hand-harvest fishery, the limit is 500 crabs per license holder per 24-hour period that begins at 12:00 noon.

Restrictions on Tools:

The use of any tool, including, but not limited to, nets, rakes, tongs, hooks, poles, gaffs or spears to take horseshoe crabs is prohibited. However, the license holder may wear gloves.


Any person that does not hold both a commercial license to take horseshoe crabs by hand and a Horseshoe Crab Hand-Harvest Endorsement Letter is prohibited from entering the water to assist a person so licensed and endorsed. Such unlicensed or unendorsed persons are not prohibited from carrying crabs that have been placed on the beach by the license holder to a storage container or vehicle or taking crabs from a license holder for storage while remaining in a boat.


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