Officials fear many aren’t aware of minimum size rule for blue claws

TIM KELLY PHOTO | Kris Krzystow shows off a crab he caught last week at the West Creek bridge in New Suffolk.

The blue claw crab boom in Southold waters that started several years ago is still going strong, but it’s beginning to concern town lawmakers, who haven’t spelled out the state DEC’s size restrictions for crabs in their permit applications, available at the Town Trustees office.

The Southold Town Board plans to ask members of the town police department to check in on the large groups of crabbers who congregate on the bridge over West Creek on New Suffolk Avenue to make sure the crabs they’re catching meet the state guidelines.

According to the DEC law, one person without a commercial shellfish license can legally take as many as 50 crabs per day. Hard-shell crabs must be 4.5 inches wide and soft-shell crabs must be 3.5 inches wide. A non-commercial license, which costs $5, is required and can be purchased at the Trustees office.

Though there’s no restriction on taking female crabs that aren’t carrying eggs, the town urges residents to release female crabs. They’re identified by the tapered area at the bottom of their lower carapace that looks like the U.S. Capitol dome, while the male crabs have a large continuous abdominal plate.

A dozen or so crabbers trying their luck on the West Creek bridge went home without the bucket full of crabs needed for a decent meal.

In fact, Kris Krzyston of New Jersey, who has summered on the North Fork since his youth, had but one large blue claw in his bucket. As he and others stood watch on the bridge’s northern side only a few crabs scuttled sideways just below the surface south toward the bay. One of the few netted of a decent size was a female and quickly returned to the creek.

Mr. Krzyston said most of the people who crab from the bridge, which is near the Kimogenor Point cottage community, have ties to the area and understand the reasons why smaller crabs should be returned to the water. He added that they’re also quite aware that a passing police officer might not take kindly to a bucket full of small crabs.

That, he said would ruin one of the more pleasurable experiences a summer in Southold offers.

“Look at that,” he said as the sun set behind the trees along the creek. “Where else can you do this and see that?”

Town Trustee president Jim King, a Long Island Sound lobsterman, said this week that he hasn’t heard much concern about people taking undersized crabs, but he has heard complaints that more people are crabbing than ever before.

“There’s some lady complaining that there are too many people crabbing, but people like to go out with a dip net and catch crabs,” he said. “In my mind it’s not a huge deal. In the last few years there have been a lot of blue crabs. That might have to do with warmer water.

“Lots of times it’s a nighttime fishery,” he added. “The bay constables aren’t around at night. That would require overtime.”

Though West Creek is closed to shellfishing in the warm summer months due to high coliform bacteria levels, Mr. King said those restrictions do not apply to crabs.

Town Board members are also concerned that the crabbers on the bridge may be violating the “No Fishing” sign posted on the bridge.

Mr. King isn’t sure that’s the case.

“I would assume it’s fishing with a pole for finfish,” he said. “You’d have to hire a lawyer to find that out, I guess.”

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