NJ sustainable seafood hits a snag

An adverse court decision yesterday poses a temporary setback to local small seafood businesses at the Delaware Bay. The ruling will be appealed and brought to the attention of local lawmakers.

crabs in basketBaysave, along with our partners, is involved in several projects to improve the financial and business security of the bayshore region’s watermen. We recognize that environmental sustainability goes hand-in-hand with economic sustainability of the local communities along the Delaware Bay. There must be a balance in considering the needs of all stakeholders. Imbalances historically lead to disaster in all types of ecosystems.

One sustainability initiative involves the need to bring local commercial crabbers access to wider markets and better product pricing. We initiated a number of projects: a shared use storage cooler, formation of a multi-state harvesters cooperative, and online lead generation systems to connect buyers and sellers through online and social media. In 2018 Baysave engaged two professional marketing firms and several volunteers to post social media messages across a broad multi-state network to promote crabbing. Direct-to-consumer sales result in significantly higher price to the crabber. Of course, this effort is not popular with seafood wholesalers, powerful regional businesses with a reputation of using ‘muscle’ to force the crabbers into submission. The wholesaler controls the volume of harvest, the price and often acts as banker for smaller crabbers. The local New Jersey crabbers compare their industry to the feudalistic systems of generations ago using them as indentured servants who never quite get out from under the control of their dealer.

In other states these independent seafood harvesters have increased sustainability by forming cooperatives. Baysave proposed this idea and received funding in 2018. Within days the wholesaler retaliated with a complaint. Fish and Wildlife demanded to see records of crabbers who provided crabs to us last fall. The state didn’t seem to recognize that we didn’t sell any crabs at all. Even though we explained that Baysave is an online lead generator for members of the cooperative, and not a party to any transaction involving crabs, Fish & Wildlife believes that current state law does not make a distinction. If we reveal the identities of the crabbers who participate in the cooperative, they would face retribution from other buyers. Past threats against the crabbers and co-operative members are well documented but not prosecuted.

The system of feeding sales leads to crabbers worked well until yesterday. Regional Court Justice ruled that the activity of Baysave’s volunteer controller falls under the definition of persons required to keep records. Novak admits to ordering and leaving cash at the marina in advance to pay for 4 to 5 bushels of crabs over the course of the season for personal consumption at barbecues but that he did not drive to NJ on weekends where the barbecues were rained out. He suggested that the crabbers attempt to resell the crabs to minimize the financial loss. He posted messages on social media offering the crabs that were available at the marina but had no involvement in either the buying or selling transactions.

A sign advertising crabs was posted at the marina, in fact has been posted for more than a decade, advertising crabs. Fish & Wildlife does not allege that Novak had any involvement in posting the sign but apparently the law enforcement officer feels that he should be responsible for the transactions that crabbers May have conducted for the crabs that he originally purchased for personal consumption. This legal issue has never before been raised for the many decades and millions of dollars that are caught, landed, and sold at Money Island. We suspect that Fish & Wildlife is acting to protect the large wholesalers at the detriment of independent crabbers who wish to advertise and sell their crabs. This posting of signs by crabbers at marinas is a common practice statewide. We are not aware that any of the other marinas that posted crabbers’ signs have ever been prosecuted.

Fish & Wildlife Division demanded records of these transactions if they occurred. Novak had no records and no information of whether transactions actually occurred. He called the people who he suspected might have bought or sold the crabs but all denied involvement. It seems clear that they are afraid of retaliation by the wholesaler if their name is reported. F&W issued a citation to Novak for his remote role in the cancelled crab deliveries but did not cite any parties on site in New Jersey.

Judge Van Embden ruled that Novak’s actions in advertising the crabs by sharing Facebook posts made him legally responsible for keeping records of the crabs despite not taking delivery of them and having no knowledge of the identities of the crabber(s) or details of possible transactions. Novak said that he intends to appeal the ruling based on both technical errors at trial and the merits of the case.

Representatives of the new seafood cooperative met with local legislators recently to discuss the need to prevent these restrictions on seafood marketing. We believe this court ruling may provide additional support for our request for legislative action.

Meanwhile, Baysave will resume discussions with our state legislators on the need to change the state law to protect off-site seafood sales lead generators. This will help our local crabbers who do not otherwise have access to the type of online marketing support that a cooperative can offer. The cooperative lead generation system is working well for crabbers in Delaware and Maryland. We think it is just a matter of time until New Jersey clarifies it’s applicable law. In the meanwhile, Baysave will focus only on out-of-state fisheries products and will not promote any New Jersey fisheries product.

Tuesday October 30 grant ceremony

For immediate release
Contact: Tony Novak, 856-237-9199

CRAB INDUSTRY REVITALIZATION GRANT CEREMONY TUESDAY OCT. 30

Baysave is pleased to announce that a grant ceremony will be held Tuesday October 30, 2018, 11:00 at Money Island, New Jersey to present a check from New Jersey Community Capital THRIVE grant. The grant is focused on revitalizing the local blue claw crab industry. The press release from the donor is posted here.

Money Island, located on the bayshore in Cumberland County, is New Jersey’s second most productive seafood landing port. The tiny working waterfront community is struggling for survival under government-imposed costs in the midst of ongoing regional economic depression. Climate-related events, including massive costs from superstorm Sandy recovery, further hurt the recovery of the local seafood industry.

The Delaware Bay blue claw crab population is healthy yet about half of the 312 commercial crab licenses issued by the State of New Jersey are underutilized. Many licensed crabbers are not happy with current economic opportunities so they stay off the water. Baysave proposed establishing a shared use physical facility for the landing, storage and processing of crabs by independent harvesters as well as helping to organize a watermen’s cooperative to improve the marketing and business operations of crabbers to increase their bottom line.

The majority of the grant award will be used for state permitting costs. While the local industry has been in operation for more than seven decades, none of the docks or supporting infrastructure, have ever been permitted by authorities. “New Jersey has a ‘one size fits all’ fee schedule for land use permitting that works well in the northern part of the state but has been impossible for the economically deprived bayshore region. The permitting costs exceed the land value here. Only now are some of the region’s largest seafood companies beginning to tackle this expensive legal requirement” says Tony Novak, CPA Controller for Baysave.  By having a fully permitted crab landing and storage facility for smaller independent crabbers, Novak expects that more investment will then be available for crab processing, marketing and distribution systems to boost income for the local industry. Baysave has already announced plans to offer financing of equipment for crabbers who want to expand their production and hopes to offer vessel financing soon.

Novak notes that this grant is only 1/6 of the amount of funding needed to transform the waterfront community to a sustainable operation but is a welcome positive first step that, he hopes, will draw other investors to the opportunities in regional seafood industry expansion.

“We are grateful for the efforts of Cumberland County Economic Development Director Kim Ayers and the help of Jeff Kaszerman New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants for working with us to find this opportunity”.

Baysave is a 501(c)(3) association registered as a New Jersey charity. The mission is to connect government, educational, nonprofit and industry resources to support sustainable aquaculture.

Blue claw crab research

Yesterday I interviewed Dr. Paul Jivoff, a professor at Rider University, by telephone to learn more about topics at the intersection of science and business of blue claw crabs. Dr. Jivoff is a local expert in blue claw crabs and we’ve communicated several times over the past few years, including our meeting with the Rider Development Office last year about the possibility of a research site at Money Island.

The big picture goal is to ensure that our business plans are aligned with the available science and, to the extent possible, consider the possibility of future biological impacts on the industry.

This is an annotated abstract from one of Dr. Jivoff’s papers that overviews the life cycle of blue claw crabs:

“Blue crabs are considered estuarine residents with all life history stages, except for the larval stages, occurring in estuarine waters. Adult females release larvae into the water column near the mouths of estuaries (Millikin and Williams, 1980). Larvae are carried offshore where at least 30 days are required to go through seven zoeal stages (Millikin and Williams, 1980; Epifanio, 2007). As a result, blue crab larvae represent one trophic link between estuarine and oceanic food webs. The final plank-tonic stage (megalopa) returns to the estuary, via wind-driven currents and tides (Epifanio, 2007), where they metamorphose to form the first juvenile stage (<5 mm carapace width) and become benthic. These juveniles grow rapidly, molting on average every 3–4 weeks depending on water temperature (Smith and Chang, 2007), making them important prey for a variety of fish and birds, but they are also important predators on other small invertebrates (Lipcius et al., 2007). Therefore, young juveniles (<20 mm carapace width) occupy shallow, structured habitats that also contain food sources including seagrass beds, macroalgae, and oyster reefs (Lipcius et al., 2007). During the 12–18 months required to reach sexual maturity (at 90–100 mm carapace width), habitat use expands based on size and density-dependent factors (Hines, 2007; Lipcius et al., 2007). Smaller juveniles (20–30 mm carapace width) move to alternative nursery habitats including marsh creeks and marsh-fringed mud flats (Lipcius et al., 2007). Larger juveniles (>20 mm carapace width) begin venturing into unstructured habitats and, as they grow, inhabit deeper areas where they continue to be important predators but are prey to fewer organisms (Hines, 2007). Unlike females that exhibit a final molt to reach maturity, adult males grow throughout their lives (reaching sizes of >200 mm carapace width), molting every 30–40 days depending on temperature, and they typically return to more protective habitats during molting, as they are particularly vulnerable to predators. As a result of ontogenetic shifts in habitat as well as movement into lower salinity areas, blue crabs can be found in a wide array of habitats, throughout the estuarine-to-ocean salinity gradient (e.g., 5–35 ppt) (Hines, 2007; Lipcius et al., 2007). Because they represent both predator (contrary to popular belief, they are not scavengers) and prey in these habitats, blue crabs are a critical component of the estuarine food web both within and between estuarine habitats. Blue crabs have been an important food item for humans since the early 1700s and have supported a commercial and recreational fishery since the 1800s (Kennedy et al., 2007). As a result, blue crabs are part of the historic, economic, and social fabric of communities along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States. Blue crabs are consumed as “hard crabs” (crabs with a hard carapace, typically in the intermolt stage) and as “soft crabs” (crabs with a soft carapace as a result of recent molting) (Kennedy et al., 2007). The predominant fishing techniques vary with the season and with the sex of the harvested crabs. During the warmer seasons (late spring-late fall), blue crabs are typically harvested with a trap or “pot,” and the catch is predominantly males. During the winter, particularly in the mid-Atlantic region, blue crabs are harvested by a dredge, and the catch is predominantly females.” (Jivoff, P.R.. (2016). Blue crabs. Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series. 109-110. 10.1007/978-94-017-8801-4_4.)

We discussed industry practices that might support a larger crab population; specifically that we will not support winter dredging of crabs. Also, we opened discussion on the possibility that Money Island might be a good location for future crab research.

Grant award to strengthen NJ crabbing

New Jersey Community Capital Awards THRIVE Grant to Baysave Corporation for Blue Claw Crab Industry Recovery Project

“This first community financing success brings us 1/6 of the way toward keeping the Money Island working waterfront marina community viable but only about 1% of the way to long term sustainable total community redevelopment. So the plan is to use this grant to build momentum. We have a series of meetings coming up with investors about additional funding.  In the end, I suspect that a crowdfunding will also be required to transform our community to thrive in the years ahead”. – Tony Novak

New Brunswick, NJ (October 25, 2018) – New Jersey Community Capital (“NJCC”) announced through its THRIVE South Jersey initiative, it has awarded a $15,000 grant to Baysave Corporation to support the Baysave Crab Industry Recovery Project. This investment will fund capital improvements and technical assistance to enhance the  existing  infrastructure  in  Money  Island,  New  Jersey  and  reestablish  the  blue  claw  crab  industry  for  independent commercial crabbers in the community.
As a bay shore community along the coast of New Jersey, Money Island boasts a robust blue claw crab industry. While  the  town  has  suffered  economically  from  the  effects  of  Hurricane  Sandy  and  other  climate‐related  challenges, oyster and blue claw crab fishing remain an in‐demand trade. The $15,000 grant will provide the needed funding to seed the development and operation of an independent crab cooperative.
“New Jersey Community Capital plays a vital role in helping businesses gain invaluable resources to start, grow, and succeed,” says Tony Novak, Executive Director of Baysave Corporation. “This grant further enhances Baysave Corporation’s ability to support small business practices in the blue claw crab industry while growing greater economic resiliency in our community.”
“We believe that providing access to capital is essential for driving economic growth and opportunity for local residents,” says Wayne T. Meyer, President of New Jersey Community Capital. “As mission‐driven lenders, our goal is to help ensure that communities are given the resources and technical assistance to empower and fuel small business success. Through the THRIVE SJ initiative, NJCC will be able to support the projects and activities that supplement job creation and drive long‐term economic impact.”
THRIVE South Jersey works to expand local and regional capacity to generate economic growth in the targeted region of Southern New Jersey that includes Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem, and western Atlantic counties. Through  a  combination  of  strategic  funding  and  capacity  building,  THRIVE  South  Jersey  seeks  to  support  organizations fostering community revitalization activities that generate jobs and sustain low‐income families in the four county region.

About New Jersey Community Capital
New Jersey Community Capital is a nonprofit community development financial institution (CDFI) that creates thriving communities through strategic investments and technical assistance. NJCC supports the preservation and development of affordable housing and sustainable community development ventures that increase jobs, improve  education,  and  strengthen  neighborhoods.  For  more  information,  visit:  www.newjerseycommunitycapital.org.

A check presentation ceremony and photograph session are planned for Tuesday October 30 at 11:00. Please RSVP if interested in attending.

Blue claw crab facts

compiled by Tony Novak, originally published February 24, 2015

Much of the blue claw crab life cycle research commonly cited about blue claw crabs was conducted in the 1940s and 1950s in the Chesapeake Bay region. There is some published contradicting information. Few studies have followed the changes occurring, if any, on crab life cycle variance over time. This list is meant as a compilation of generally accepted published data.

Female crabs typically mate once in their lifetime.

Sexual maturity is reached 1 to 1 1/2 years after post-larval molts.

After mating, the crabs survive the winter by burrowing into the mud before spawning (laying eggs).

Burrowing occurs in deeper, warmer waters near the mouth of the bay.

Spawning occurs 2 months to 9 months after mating.

Each female produces millions of fertilized eggs.

Crabs spawn in higher salinity waters near the ocean.

Juvenile crabs migrate into shallower, less-saline waters farther up the bay.

Male crabs may remain in lower salinity water farther up the bay waters to feed.

Male crab movements are not directional but may depend more on currents and tidal flow.

Most larval, infantile and juvenile crabs are consumed as food by other species.

Crab larvae feed mostly on plankton.

Juvenile crabs feed on invertebrates in the benthos zone (worms, shrimp living in the mud) as well as some plant material.

Adult crabs prefer to eat clams and oysters and have the ability to find buried clams and open their shells. Cannibalized molting crabs are a significant portion of their diet.

Crabs molt up to 20 times in their life span.

Molting is energy dependent and does not occur in winter.

Refrigerating a molting crab stops its shell from hardening (for human consumption of soft shell crabs).

Molting happens more frequently in small crabs and less frequently in larger crabs.

The maximum age for most blue crabs in the mid-Atlantic region is three years.

Adults crabs live an average of less than one year after reaching maturity.

Maximum size is about 9 inches from point to point.

In the fall when temperatures drop below 50°F adult crabs leave shallow, inshore waters and seek deeper areas where they borrow into the bottom and throughout the winter.

Temperature above 93 degrees is lethal.

Tolerance range is pH 6-8 and less than 6 is lethal.

Salinity requirement varies with life cycle.

The State of New Jersey issues this safety advisory for crabs caught in the Newark Bay.

New Jersey’s Professor Paul Jivoff in the biology department at Rider University is a leading authority on blue claw crabs.