AN AFTERNOON ON THE MARSH
Written by Julian Burlando- Salazar
Wednesday, June 28th, was sunny and warm, with a few high clouds and lots of light, a perfect day in Ipswich to capture footage of a soft-shell crab harvest. I took the Commuter Rail from Boston to meet Roger Warner, one of the founders of the Green Crab R&D Project. Our journey began when he picked me up at the station.
Our first stop was to Roger’s home. If I was to immerse myself in this process, I needed some geographical context on the Ipswich salt marshes, their history and the plan for a successful afternoon. It was essential that we find the best day for lighting, high tide, and mild weather in order to take the boat out on the marsh and capture the crabs in our traps. As we reached the boat, we wasted no time setting our first crab traps. Together Roger and I set a total of five traps and as we pulled up our first couple of traps, we found each was teeming with crabs.
As we traveled upstream, we noticed that the traps were becoming less full. I learned even more when we took a quick break to pick up Peter Phippen, a Marine Conservationist and the Coastal Coordinator for the Upper North Shore region of the Massachusetts Bay National Estuary Project. Peter was able to give Roger and I additional context about the history of these marshes and he also assisted in retrieving our last two crab traps.
As we finished up our fieldwork, we headed back to the grassy marsh shoreline where we started to begin the sorting process. Step one was differentiating between the males and females. I learned that this difference lies in the shape of the shell’s underbelly. The females have a wider bottom segment. Next, we looked for crabs in the pre-molt phase. This proved to be a little more difficult, with selection dependent on observing subtle cues and the sorter’s experience. One hint is the intensity of the color. Crabs in the pre-molt stage faint in color compared to those in post molt. Their claws are also less opaque, somewhat transparent; and finally, there are distinctive lines in the crabs’ shell segments, which are much more pronounced in pre-molt stages.
After sorting through our five traps, we had accumulated what Roger deemed a decent number of pre-molt crabs, which I approximated to be around ten. I learned that this number is significantly less than what they might find toward the middle of molting season. Our day’s work was complete.
As I headed back to Boston I reflected on this amazing experience. Being able to learn in a hands-on environment with an expert was invaluable, and I am truly grateful. I felt connected to the environment and enriched by what I learned about the nature and sorting of green soft-shell crabs.