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Blue Crab Fishery Management

The Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring. An estimated 15 percent of the female blue crab population was harvested in 2015, which is below both the target (25.5 percent) and the maximum number that can be taken (34 percent). An estimated 194 million adult female blue crabs were counted in the Bay at the start of the 2016 crabbing season, which is below the target (215 million) but above the threshold (70 million).

September 02, 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.

September 02, 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, but poor water quality, habitat loss, harvest pressure and natural predation 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. Current regulations allow 25.5 percent—but no more than 34 percent—of the whole female blue crab population to be harvested each year. Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission manage blue crabs in the Bay.

Additional Information

Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission manage blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay. This indicator tracks spawning-age female blue crab abundance in relation to targets and thresholds recommended by the 2011 Blue Crab Benchmark Stock Assessment and adopted by management jurisdictions in December of 2011. Previously, this indicator tracked total adult abundance and harvest (males and females) in relation to interim targets and thresholds for that population.

According to the 2015 Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Advisory Report, the Bay’s blue crab population is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring. 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 Baywide Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey (a cooperative effort between Maryland and Virginia) and on annual estimates of blue crab harvest. The report recommends:

  • Short-term Management Advice: Monitor fishery performance and stock status relative to recommended reference points. Maintain a risk-averse management approach. Improve the quality of catch and fishing effort information submitted by commercial and recreational harvesters.
  • Long-term Management Advice: Evaluate the establishment of a Bay-wide allocation-based management framework. Consider establishing sanctuaries to protect mature females. Evaluate variable targets and thresholds based on the fluctuating abundance of all sectors of the female population. Increase investments in Bay-wide effort monitoring, including implementing a pot marking system and a Bay-wide survey of crab pot effort to estimate the total, spatial and temporal patterns of the crab pot fishery. Estimate and monitor the level and possible reentry of latent effort into the fishery and investigate the impact of the inherent variability of blue crab abundance on both latent and active effort.

Source of Data

NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office

410 Severn Avenue / Suite 112
Annapolis, Maryland 21403
Tel: (800) YOUR-BAY / Fax: (410) 267-5777
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