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Blue Crab Abundance (Spawning-Age Females)

The abundance of spawning-age female blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay decreased to 68.5 million in 2014, compared with 147 million in 2013. This number is below both the 215 million target abundance and the 70 million threshold, which means spawning-age female crabs are currently in a depleted state. 

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.

April 20, 2011

April 2013: The Chesapeake Bay winter dredge survey is an annual count of the Bay’s blue crab population, and a critical component of blue crab management. The information gathered on abundance, young-of-the-year and spawning stock—those crabs that will mature enough to reproduce during the upcoming year—allows fisheries managers to set commercial and recreational harvest limits for the season ahead.
Closed captions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28mvEE7ydXA


Perhaps no species is more closely associated with the Chesapeake Bay than the blue crab. Blue crabs support commercial and recreational fisheries across the region, and are one of the Bay’s hardiest species. But poor water quality, habitat loss, harvest pressure and natural predation can affect their continued health. Blue crab population levels inform how harvest regulations should or shouldn’t change if we are to maintain a sustainable blue crab stock.


The Chesapeake Bay Program has a target abundance of 215 million spawning-age female blue crabs, adopted in 2011.

Additional Information

While the Chesapeake Bay blue crab stock is currently depleted, overfishing is not occurring, according to the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Advisory Report and Figures. This report highlights the current status of the blue crab population and recommends continued work to sustain robust crab populations over the long term.

The report was developed by the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee (CBSAC), which includes scientists and representatives from the federal government, state governments and 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 the population is currently depleted, as there were roughly 68.5 million adult female crabs estimated to be in the Bay at the beginning of the 2014 crabbing season. This number is just below the 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, jurisdictions should continue to monitor trends in male abundance and refer to the male conservation triggers laid out in the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Advisory Report.
  • Short- and Long-Term Management Advice: Recommendations include maintaining a risk-averse management approach to protect the 2014 juveniles and increasing accountability for commercial and recreational harvest. Please see the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Advisory Report for detailed recommendations.
  • Critical Data and Analysis Needs: Recommendations include continued analysis of gear efficiency between Maryland and Virginia and an analysis and estimate of overwintering mortality. Please see the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Advisory Report for detailed recommendations.

Based on recommendations from the 2011 Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Advisory Report, this indicator 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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