You never know what you might come across while taking a walk along a beach.
Earlier on Sunday I was out walking along the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in Sea Bright, NJ, a little beach town located near the entrance to New York Harbor. I went to see what relics ol' Neptune, the god of the sea, might have heaved onto the beach after the latest winter storm to hit the region. The oddest items always seen to show up soon after a fierce coastal storm. Sunday was no different.
The high tide washed up[ several small American Lobster claws onto the beach. No bodies, just claws. There must have been over two dozen claws strewn along the tide line. It was a first for me to find so many. In the past, I always found bits and pieces, but never so many whole claws before.
You might think the claws would be bright red, but they only turn that color after they've been cooked. These claws were more like the natural color of an American lobster. A blend of brown, green and red, although some lobsters are blue, yellow or even white. The claws also had black speckles and bluish colors in the joints of the appendages.
American Lobsters have two large formidable claws. A heavy crusher claw used to open the shells of snails, clams and crabs, and even other lobsters, as they can be cannibalistic. The other claw is a smaller cutter claw used for eating its food, which can also include seaweed or dead animals, really anything that they can get their claws on.
Lobster claws can't be confused with any other sea creature found along our coast. Blue-claw crab claws are similar, but they have a brilliant blue color on their front claws; females have red tips. Crab claws are also small and slender compared to hefty lobster claws.
Both the heavy crusher and the small cutter claws were strewn on the beach. There were more crusher claws, though, scattered about, about five to one. Not sure why. The claws were small too, like from a juvenile or small adult.
How did these lobster claws get here?
Believe it or not lobsters call the busy waters in or near New York Harbor home. Smaller lobsters can often be found living near the intertidal zone, while larger lobsters live in deeper waters of the bay and ocean.
Who knows how many lobsters exist here. Current populations studies don't exist in New York Harbor to say for sure. Yet, some local scuba divers will tell you that lobsters can be found living near the rocks of offshore lighthouses in the bay, like Old Orchard. While other divers will acknowledge that "huge" lobsters can be seen living near the shipwrecks off the coastline of New York and New Jersey.
That's not all. A number of recreational fisherman have claimed that lobsters can be caught in crab traps near the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Commercial fisherman have also told folks on the sly that fishing boats now and then trawl up lobsters in the bay, especially near Gravesend Bay, Brooklyn.
in his book, The Fisheries of Raritan Bay, Clyde MacKenzie, a research fishery biologist at the Sandy Hook NOAA lab, wrote about a once active lobster harvesting business before World War II in Lower New York Bay. Loberstermen from Keyport and Highlands would catch many lobsters beginning in early May. There were about four thousand lobster cages in the bay and they were all often lifted daily when lobsters were abundant. MacKenzie writes, " In some years individual boats got from 100 to 150 pounds a day during peak periods, but in others catches were only 30 pounds a day." Though the market was small compared to Long Island and New England, New York Harbor once had a thriving commercial lobster industry.
Today, lobstering no longer takes place in the harbor. There is, however, an active fishery in the ocean, although it still represents just a small share of New Jersey's seafood industry, and only about 2 percent of the national market. According to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, there are about 100 state commercial lobster-fishing licenses, but only around half of those are active. Most boats operate out of Belford, Shark River or Point Pleasant.
Unfortunately, the most obvious reason a large amount of people don't know that lobsters live near the Jersey Shore is because the 700,000 pounds of lobsters harvested each year in the ocean are not called "Jersey Fresh lobsters, but are commonly called "Maine lobsters" by local restaurants owners. Most likely because water quality seems to many folks to be better in Maine. It's no wonder that the American Lobster has an identity crisis in New Jersey and New York. Many people think all lobsters come from Maine!
That's just the way it goes for lobsters around here. They live an unseen and secretive life for many people. If not for the occasional washed up claw or other body part discovered along a tide line, would anyone really believe that lobsters do live in or around New York Harbor.
For more information, pictures and year-round sightings of wildlife in or near Sandy Hook Bay, please check out my blog entitled, Nature on the Edge of New York City at http://www.natureontheedgenyc.com