The blue crab may be the most popular resident in the Chesapeake Bay. Its likeness appears on signs, t-shirts and storefronts throughout the watershed. Moreover, it's the main ingredient in the delectable dish that makes the region famous: crab cakes.
To ensure numbers of this famous crustacean remain healthy, Bay Program partners closely monitor both crab populations, or “crab abundance,” and pressure from fishing.
In 2006, the abundance of adult crabs in the Chesapeake Bay remained well below the restoration goal. According to scientists, the current population of legal-sized crabs is at 57 percent of the Bay Program's 232 million pound “biomass” goal. (Biomass is the quantity of living matter, expressed as a concentration or weight per unit area.) These numbers are estimated through winter dredge and summer trawl surveys. Although not at a historic low, this marks the 10th consecutive year the crab population has been below the restoration goal.
But the news is not all bad for crabs. In 2005, the crab harvest was below 46 percent of the adult population, which conserved 20 percent of the breeding stock. This marks the first time since 1997 that the crab harvest met this management target. If sustained, this level of fishing pressure should conserve enough breeding crabs to lead to a larger abundance in the future. Harvest pressure for 2006 will be estimated once the current winter dredge surveys are complete.
So while the total abundance of blue crabs continues below the restoration goal, there is hope that fishing pressure will remain steady around the management target level in coming years. That could lead to higher crab populations in the coming years, which is good news for crabs and crab lovers everywhere.