A new report on the Chesapeake Bay's blue crab population reveals a blue crab stock that has reached sustainable levels and is not overfished.
A stable blue crab population means a more stable Bay economy, with watermen employed, restaurants stocked, and recreational crabbers—and crab-eaters—happy.
The report, developed by the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee (CBSAC) and released Friday by the Chesapeake Bay Program's Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team, highlights the health of a blue crab population with results showing a sustainable number of adult females and more juveniles than have been counted in the past two decades.
According to the report, overfishing of blue crabs is not occurring in the Bay. Indeed, 2011 represents the fourth consecutive year that harvest levels have been at or below target level. This is likely due to more stringent harvesting regulations that work to preserve the female blue crab population. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources, for instance, has placed limits on the commercial harvest of female blue crabs and banned the recreational harvest of females altogether. Virginia regulators have banned the winter dredging of blue crabs for the past four years, notable because mature female crabs often overwinter in the saltier, warmer waters of the lower Bay.
Winter estimates place the adult female blue crab population at 97 million, based on a dredge survey taken at almost 1,500 sites throughout the Bay. While this is below CBSAC’s target of 215 million adult female crabs, it is still above the committee’s overfished threshold.
The winter dredge survey also counted 587 million juvenile crabs in the Bay, an almost 300 percent increase from last year’s count and the largest number of juveniles recorded in the survey’s 23-year history. Because of the blue crab’s rapid growth rate and short life span—few blue crabs live longer than three years—these juveniles should be mature enough to enter the blue crab fishery this year, bolstering the fall harvest.
To maintain a sustainable blue crab fishery, CBSAC recommends better accounting for both commercial and recreational catches and taking a precautionary approach to harvesting young crabs this fall in hopes of generating a healthy harvest next spring.
Learn more about the 2012 Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Advisory Report.