By Jay Cook |
RED BANK – When Keith and Jennifer Kimkowski go on their annual crabbing excursion for Jennifer’s August birthday, the couple packs up three kids and a cooler of food, and ventures to Red Bank, their favorite spot in the state.
The Kimkowski family isn’t just driving down Ocean Avenue or coming into town from the Coopers Bridge. They embark on a two-hour drive south to Red Bank Marina from their home in Vernon Township, right at the border of New Jersey and New York.
But this year’s trip was different from years past. After docking their rented boat for an afternoon on the Navesink River, they wheeled back an over flowing wooden bushel basket packed with blue claw crabs, claws and legs rustling beneath the wooden cover.
“We always come to this spot because we always catch crabs,” said Jennifer, who noted the family caught nearly 50 keepers. “We’ve been coming since (the kids) were little.”
This large harvest is far from an anomaly, said Red Bank Marina owner Steve Remaley. In fact, it’s become more of the norm for a season that he dubbed as “the best year of crabbing since Super Storm Sandy.”
“I’ve been hearing from the customers that they haven’t caught this much in a short period of time, just as they did many, many years ago,” he said.
Known for their sky blue tinted claws and delicate white meat, blue claw crabs have been a regular resident of the Navesink and Shrewsbury rivers.
According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), crabbing is one of the most popular marine activities in state waters. The agency believes approximately 30 percent of all marine fishing comes from crabbing.
Per state regulations, all hard-shell keepers must measure 4.5 inches horizontally from tip to tip. There’s no set-in-stone number for catch limits – crabbers are allowed to keep a bushel’s worth.
Soft shell crabs, otherwise known as “softies” to seasoned recreational crabbers, must measure 3.5 inches. Softies are commonly found after a full moon once they molt their exoskeletons.
The crabbing season, regulated by the state Division of Fish & Wildlife, is open from March 15 through Nov. 30.
In the Two River area, the number of blue claw crabs has peaked this season, says Pim Van Hemmen, assistant director of the American Littoral Society, a local marine environmentalist group headquartered on Sandy Hook.
“Crabs come in waves – it’s like a roller coaster,” Van Hemmen said. “This year is a bumper crop.”
Van Hemmen cited a wide variety of factors which have played a par t in the blue claw crab boom. He said because of this past winter’s mild temperature, the crabs didn’t have to bury into the mud to stay warm. With colder winters comes higher crab mortality.
He also noted favorable tides and winds as a secondary reason for the spike.
“If a larger number of larvae make their way back into the rivers and the bays,” Van Hemmen said, “you’re going to have more baby crabs.”
And just like that, riverside towns like Red Bank have become an epicenter for crabbers to descend upon with their drop lines and long-handled nets.
Remaley, the marina owner, said some of the best crabbing in the Navesink hap- pens just past his docks – located along the West Front Street Bridge.
The area between that bridge, the NJ Transit train bridge into Red Bank, and the Coopers bridge spanning Middletown and Red Bank, has become the perfect spot for crabs to hide out from the busier waters just up the river, he said.
“In this spot, there’s not a lot of boat traffic. It’s smaller boats because the big ones can’t get underneath the bridges,” he said. “The water is not stirred up or murky.”
The same can be said for Red Bank’s other premiere crabbing location: Marine Park. Tucked behind River view Medical Center, the public park offers a small fishing pier and spots along the bulkhead to drop lines into the no-wake zone waters.
Aberdeen residents Tommy Becker and his dad, Frank, drove down to Marine Park on Friday morning in hopes of catching dinner for that evening. Inside their cooler were about 30 to 35 full size blue claws, which they snagged earlier in the day.
The pair of crabbers were using a combination of raw chicken and bunker, two of the most popular crab baits.
“It doesn’t matter what you drop,” Tommy Becker said, “they’re going to eat it.”
A few hundred feet away, dropping in lines from the fishing pier, was Diana Tauriello, alongside family and friends. Inside their bushel bucket were another 50 or so crabs, set to be cooked in a garlic sauce for a Friday night meal.
“Early bird catches the worm,” Tauriello said, with a smirk. “We’re the ones that hit them all because we were out here first.”
Both Van Hemmen and Remaley noted that crabbers should be mindful of not over- crabbing. Stay away from undersized crabs, as they could be keepers in less than a month. Also, refrain from taking females, marked by their bright red claws, as it could hurt next year’s crop.
With such a bountiful amount this season, “there’s no reason you shouldn’t be catching them,” Remaley said.
This article was first published in the Aug. 31-Sept. 7, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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