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Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Population Shows Improvement

Spawning-Age Female Number Nearly Doubles

small crab being measuredThe Maryland Department of Natural Resources today released the results of the 2016 Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey, which show another year of growth in the stock of the Chesapeake Bay crab population and bodes well for a better harvest this year. The survey indicates a bay-wide crab population of 553 million, a 35-percent increase over last year. This is the fourth highest level in two decades, and builds on last year’s 38-percent boost in abundance.

“Due to a milder winter, favorable currents and tides, and wise bay-wide management measures, the Maryland crab population continues to rebound and strengthen,” Fisheries Service Director Dave Blazer said. “With an increase in abundance and steady recruitment, we fully anticipate a robust crab season this year.”

Improvements were seen in all age groups of male and female crabs. The spawning female stock nearly doubled from 101 to 194 million and the adult male stock more than doubled from 44 to 91 million – the second highest levels since 1995.

The number of spawning-age female crabs remains below the 215 million target but above the minimum threshold established in 2011. The juvenile crab abundance increased slightly from 269 million to 271 million, which is just above the 27-year average.

“The highly variable nature of the blue crab population means that we must maintain a degree of caution in considering management adjustments,” Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee Chairman Glenn Davis said.

fisheries staff pulling up a net to find and count crabsThe 2015 bay-wide crab harvest increased by 42 percent over 2014 to 50 million pounds and remained at sustainable levels for the eighth consecutive year. This combined with increased abundance means that a slight liberalization of harvest limits for female crabs may be warranted this summer.

“Our experts will now discuss the survey results with our internal and external stakeholders,” Blazer said. “Any modest adjustment to the current regulations, be it season length or bushel limit, will be considered only after the department receives input from all parties.”

The Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee plans to release a full analysis this summer.

The annual Winter Dredge Survey, conducted by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Virginia Institute of Marine Science since 1990, is the primary assessment of the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population. In the survey, biologists use dredge equipment to capture, measure, record and release blue crabs at 1,500 sites throughout the bay from December through March. Crabs tend to bury in the mud over the cold winter months, which makes it possible for scientists to develop accurate estimates of the number of crabs.

  • Adam Shemenski

    Does this mean us lowly ole recreational guys may finally get to keep some females? it’s hard dumping the monster Mama’s back in the water when the males are running slow and small at certain times of the year. I’d even be happy if they said we could keep some females if they were above 6.5″. Even a dozen or two per day per license holder would at least be giving us something.
    Adam Shemenski

    • John Weddle

      Along the same lines as Adams comment, allowing recreational crabbers to keep say up to two dozen females as part of their bushel limit takes some pressure of the commercially more valuable male crabs for commercial crabbers to catch

      • Except when you keep a female, you have removed a couple million potential offspring. Leave the females. In the long run you will have more crabs to take home

        • Jonny1488

          Not true. Ecology has showed us time and time again that animal populations are affected by a number of variables, and are typically cyclical. Normally a decrease in any population, whether it be male or female, leads to a population boom a few years later due to an increase in food available, and also helps keep biodiversity high. Animal populations are effected more from other populations than they are from fluctuations with their own numbers. Species population growth and decline is very complex.
          P.S. Recreational crabbers are allowed to keep females in the MD coastal bays and Atlantic coastal region.

    • Daniel

      Leave things as they are.There are 5000 licensed watermen verses 320.000 recreational people. DO THE MATH!!

  • Alan Pflugrad

    Why harvest females? The forecast is perilously dangerous. If the female harvest is banned, the the male population will increase by order of magnitude. Commercial crabbers could be temporarily paid not to harvest females until the growth of male population eliminates the need for females. In New England, female lobsters cannot be harvested and that harvest is remarkably sustainable.

  • George Bennet

    Last year, in spite of recommendations by the CBSAC, the DNR raised the female limits. This year, the female numbers are still below the recommended threshold. So again, the DNR is going to raise the female limits. Pretty obvious that the DNR is led around by the nose by the watermen groups, and not following scientifically sound recommendations like they are paid to do.

  • Patriot

    Leave the females alone. A commercial and recreational moratorium on female crab harvests now to ensure our crab population in the future!