Last night I attended the Advisory Council on Shellfisheries meeting, this was the first one I have ever been too and it was a learning experience. Rich Wong Biometrician, ( fishery scientist or marine biologist ) did a presentation on the 2016 Oyster quota. Every year DNREC does surveys to see how much spat is being produced and at which bed locations. In 2015, DNREC monitored oysters at 61 locations across 1,700 acres of oyster bottom. These are on the Delaware side of the bay, New Jersey has their own beds, and do their own surveys. DNREC tries to figure out how many oysters are on the beds in that year to set the following years quota. Unfortunately over the past two decades spat recruitment has been well below normal levels. This year the quota is slated to be reduced to 10,662 bushels, due to low numbers of oysters after four consecutive years of very poor recruitment. Things may not improve over the next couple years based on the poor natural spat production. Spat are baby oysters that grow and build up the oyster beds. All of the oyster beds showed lowered spat production except for Drum bed, one of the smaller beds in the Delaware Bay. Rich Wong stated “Spat to market takes about 3 to 4 years for the most part. It takes longer up bay (Delaware) at Woodland Beach or Persimmon tree, where the salinity is a bit lower and growth is slower. “ The mortality rate of oysters in the Delaware bay averages twenty percent, that is based on all rates from natural causes to harvesting. Natural mortality from disease and predators is typically worse than harvest mortality. These rates increase the further you go south due to salinity levels. DNREC is recommending that the harvesters try to rotate their harvests to decrease pressure in heavier harvested areas.
DNREC is also changing the language of regulations to make it easier on the water-men to comply with undersized oyster issues. There will be a 5% allowance for oysters under the legal size of two and three quarter inches. This 5% is applied per each bushel sampled by DNREC enforcement, and will likely take effect in Fall 2016. Spat attached to a legal oyster, so long as it cannot be safely removed to ensure the survival of that spat, are allowed to be kept. However, any oyster or spat that are larger than 1 inch, but less than the legal size of 2 ¾ inches, will count toward the 5% allowance. A presentation was given by Captain Nick Couch about recent undersized oyster harvests. All of the water-men were happy to hear about this new language and appreciative of DNREC’s efforts. This new language will make it easier for them to harvest and comply without causing much damage to the oysters themselves.
The shellfish advisory council deals with crab harvesting and DNREC does its own crab surveys as well. This year there is good news for commercial crabbers. Mike Greco gave a presentation on the 2015 juvenile crab index and the 2016 Blue Crab Outlook. Surveys were started in 1978 at 26 stations above Woodland beach to Fowlers beach. There was a large increase in 2015 and is the highest index level since 2006. The projected harvest for 2016 is four million pounds for harvesting blue crabs commercially in the Delaware Bay. The Inland Bays is not part of these surveys. Rich Wong “There is no commercial harvest of blue crabs permitted in the inland bays except in one specific area of Assawoman Bay. We do conduct a trawl survey in Rehoboth and Indian River Bays that captures blue crabs, but we do not actively monitor the crab stock in the inland bays. Although commercial crabbing is prohibited in Indian and Rehoboth Bays, there is undoubtedly considerable recreational harvest occurring there. Unfortunately, we don’t have any means to quantify the amount of recreational harvest at this time. ” I found this particularly interesting since many people blame low crab populations some years for the inland bays on commercial crabbers. Can’t blame the watermen, we can only blame ourselves and possible natural causes.
Stew Michels gave a quick presentation on two subjects on the agenda, the proposed recreational harvesting of conch. That will not happen this year. The other item was allowing commercial conch potters to use more than half of a horseshoe crab as bait. It was recommenced at this time to not allow that increase for public relation concerns.
Attending these type of meetings has been an eye opener for myself personally this year. You would be amazed at the things you learn that many just take for granted about the shellfish industry and other industries. I highly recommend attending some of these meetings if just to educate yourself on the workings of the commercial fishery in Delaware. I will post meeting schedules when DNREC alerts the public. One word of advice before you go to any of these meetings, make sure you eat dinner, they usually occur at 6 PM.