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Blue Crab Abundance (Spawning-Age Females)

The abundance of spawning-age female blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay increased to 147 million in 2013, compared with 97 million in 2012. This number is below the 215 million target but remains above the 70 million threshold.

April 20, 2011

Why are blue crabs important to the Chesapeake Bay? Bruce Vogt from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explains the iconic crustacean’s economic, ecologic and gastronomic value. Learn more about blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay Program’s online Field Guide.

Produced by Matt Rath
Music: “A Moment of Jazz” by Ancelin


Perhaps no species is more closely associated with the Chesapeake Bay than the blue crab. Because they reproduce by the millions and eat virtually anything, crabs are one of the Bay’s most hardy species. Good water quality and adequate habitat are important for the crab’s continued health.


A target abundance of 215 million spawning-age female crabs was adopted in 2011.

Additional Information

The Chesapeake Bay blue crab fishery is currently operating sustainably, according to the recently released 2013 Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Advisory Report and Figures. While the report highlights the health of the blue crab population, it also recommends continued work to sustain robust crab populations over the long term.

The report was developed by the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee, which includes scientists and representatives from federal and state governments as well as academic institutions. It is based on data collected in the Bay-wide Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey (a cooperative effort between Maryland and Virginia) and on annual estimates of blue crab harvest. The report recommends:

  • Female Crabs: While the target is to have 215 million adult female crabs in the Bay, estimates indicate that there were roughly 147 million adult female crabs in the Bay at the beginning of the 2013 crabbing season—above the overfishing threshold of 70 million.
  • Male Crabs: Currently, management focuses on limiting the Bay-wide harvest of female crabs to target levels. To ensure the overall fishery remains healthy, the jurisdictions should continue to monitor trends in male abundance and refer to the new male conservation triggers established by CBSAC in the 2013 Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Advisory Report.
  • Recreational and commercial harvest: Recreational and commercial harvest of crabs affects the overall blue crab population. To increase the accuracy and precision of the harvest data, improving estimates of recreational and commercial is a priority research need.

Based on recommendations from the 2011 Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Advisory Report, this indicator now tracks spawning-age female blue crab abundance and harvest in relation to  targets and thresholds for this portion of the population.  Previously the indicator tracked total adult abundance and harvest (males and females) in relation to interim targets and thresholds for that population.

Source of Data

NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office

Related Indicators

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