BY TOM DALTON
---- — MARBLEHEAD — A local fisherman reached into the deep blue sea last week and pulled out a rare find: a blue crab.
The Chesapeake, or Atlantic blue, crab is commonly found off the shores of Maryland and can range all the way to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. They are seldom seen in these colder waters.
“It’s very rare for them to be found north of the Cape and especially as far north as (Marblehead),” said Reginald Zimmerman, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.
Ray Bates, 59, a lobsterman and commercial diver from Marblehead, said he made the discovery last week while working near Corinthian Yacht Club.
“I was putting new chain on a float system, and as I was following some of the chain out through the eel grass bed, I spotted the blue crab,” said Bates, who has been the town’s shellfish constable for 30 years. “I’ve been diving since 1960 and put in thousands of hours in the water, and I’ve never seen a blue crab ever.”
There is wide speculation about how it got here.
“The warm water we’ve had could be related to the crab’s presence this far north,” Zimmerman said.
It may have come up in ocean currents.
But it’s more likely that it came up in the bilge of a boat and was unknowingly deposited here, according to Joe Buttner of Salem State University, coordinator of the school’s aquaculture program.
The blue crab is more aggressive than crabs native to the North Shore, according to Bates. It bit him through his sweatsuit and cut the finger of another man who handled it.
Bates said he has kept the crab in storage the past few days, feeding it herring.
“I’ve shown it to a few people,” Bates said. “We have a bait and tackle (shop). I brought it there, and everybody was amazed. They couldn’t believe it, and there are a lot of seasoned fishermen there.”
Bates said he plans to donate the crab, possibly to Salem State University’s marine laboratory at Cat Cove in Salem.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.