Blue Claws!

Georgica Pond is famous for its blue claw crabs (Callinectes sapidus). Generations of East Hampton residents have fished for them using traps or baited lines. What a thrill it is to feel a crab bite your line and then slowly reel it in! As predators, the crabs play an important role in the ecological balance of Georgica Pond and in the past, there have always been enough crabs to support both commercial and recreational harvests.

Friends of Georgica Pond Foundation has funded Dr. Bradley Peterson and his team at the School of Marine & Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS), Stony Brook University to monitor the blue crab population at Georgica Pond since 2018. The graph below shows the still abundant population but an unusual ratio of female to male crabs. Females are very rare. We do not know the reason for this unusual sex ratio, but it could make the Georgica Pond population more vulnerable to harvesting pressure or even climate change.

Number of crabs collected from 36 crab trap sets at 12 locations in June and September of each year. All crabs were released.

Illegal Poaching on the Rise

In a past newsletter from 2020 we wrote about the increase in illegal poaching of crabs and provided the regulations which protect crabs from over harvesting. The Town of East Hampton’s laws are very similar to the New York State laws but are slightly more restrictive in the size of crabs it is legal to take (4.5 inches vs. 5 inches). Everyone who goes crabbing at Georgica Pond needs a recreational shellfish license and it is easy to get one at the East Hampton Town Clerk’s office (licenses for seniors are free!).

Illegal crab poaching is not unique to Georgica Pond or even the Town of East Hampton. Southampton faces a similar threat as do many other locations on Long Island.

In 2021, the Town of East Hampton and the East Hampton Town Trustees began discussing the illegal poaching situation and started drafting an amendment to the shellfish ordinance to create  a new “aggravated poaching” category  with higher fines. The new changes were adopted and added to the shellfish ordinance on July 18, 2023.

Meet Tim Treadwell

Tim Treadwell aboard Marine 1. Photo by Sara Davison

The new law fell to Tim Treadwell, the Commanding Officer of the East Hampton Town Marine Patrol, and his team to enforce.  With approximately 70 miles of shoreline and only four boats, four full time marine patrol officers and 10 part time/seasonal workers, the department is stretched thin, and since blue crabs are the only shellfish in East Hampton that are legal to harvest at night, they have to be on call 24/7. The department’s jurisdiction includes all the waterbodies and shoreline of the Town and Village of East Hampton.

Tim reported the following, town-wide shellfish violations:

  • 2021 — 1,885 activity checks, 91 violations
  • 2022 — 1,921 activity checks, 105 violations
  • 2023 — 2,033 activity checks, 75 violations

Tim believes that the increase in activity by the marine patrol and the publicity surrounding the change in the ordinance and higher fines ($1,000 up to $2,500) may have contributed to the reduction in the number of violations in 2023. He thanked residents and particularly the life guards at the Georgica Association for their assistance in reporting suspicious activity.

We are very lucky to have such a committed public servant as Tim Treadwell. He loves his job and is coming up to his 20th year with East Hampton Marine Patrol. He firmly believes that the regulations in place help to keep East Hampton the special place it is. 

How you can help

The new regulations are quite detailed and attempt to differentiate between recreational crabbing and quasi-commercial crabbing. All commercial crabbing activity requires a commercial license. it is important to call Marine Patrol only if you see activity which approximates the following:

  • Teams of people acting in concert with a designated lookout or a system of communication via vehicles, telephone, radio, or voice.
  • People attempting to flee or evade.
  • All crabs for commercial purposes must be enclosed in a bushel bag or authorized container, not buckets.
  • Anyone with at least 2x times the recreational limit (50 crabs)
  • Anyone without a commercial license attempting to export crabs outside of East Hampton.

If you see suspicious activity at Georgica Pond or other waterbodies, please call the East Hampton Town Police non-emergency number 631-537-7575 and they will connect you to marine patrol. Your report can be made anonymously. As we approach the 2024 crabbing season, please get your license and we look forward to seeing you at the pond. Please do not leave old bait, litter, or other garbage after you’ve finished.

Happy Crabbing!