Watermen in Maryland and Virginia caught fewer of the Bay’s female blue crabs in 2008, achieving the targeted reduction of 34 percent set by the governors of the two states last spring, according to preliminary harvest data released by both states.
Virginia officials announced last month that the state’s watermen hauled in 9.4 million pounds of female crabs from the Bay -- a 37 percent decline from the average catch in 2004-2007. The total blue crab harvest fell by 29.5 percent in the Virginia portion of the Bay.
In Maryland, the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Fisheries Service said an estimated 8.5 to 10.5 million pounds of female crabs were landed in 2008. This was a reduction of 28 to 36 percent from the average catch of the previous three years. (The Maryland figures are presented as a range because of discrepancies between 2008 harvest reports and concurrent, independent surveys by DNR.)
Prior to new, Bay-wide regulations put in place last spring by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, the female crab harvest in the Maryland portion of the Bay was projected to be 13 million pounds, according to Tom O’Connell, director of DNR’s Fisheries Service.
“Our estimates show a significant reduction in the number of female crabs taken in 2008,” said O’Connell.
While annual harvest numbers are an important tool, the most reliable measure of the health of the Bay’s blue crab population is the annual Bay-wide winter dredge survey, which is currently underway. Scientists will use data from the 2009 winter dredge as the basis for potential management actions in the future.
Harvest restrictions will remain in effect in both states when the 2009 crabbing season begins this spring. In Virginia, watermen will be required to set 15 percent fewer crab pots than last year, while in Maryland, officials will address unused crab licenses that have the potential to re-enter the fishery.
Read more about Maryland’s blue crab harvest data and methodology at DNR’s website.