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Blue Crab Fishery Management

Based on 2012-2013 winter dredge survey data and estimates of Bay-wide harvest, the Chesapeake Bay spawning-age female blue crab population and harvest continued at sustainable levels. Harvest was estimated at 10 percent, well below the maximum number that can be taken (34 percent).

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

Produced by Steve Droter
Music: “Elle Aime Ca” by Löhstana David


The Chesapeake Bay fishing industry holds tremendous commercial, cultural, and historic value. Managing the blue crab, oyster, striped bass, shad, and menhaden fisheries is also critical to restoring and protecting these species and their important place in the ecosystem.


A target abundance level of 215 million spawning-age female blue crabs was adopted in 2011.  The current overfishing threshold is 34 percent of the spawning-age female population and the target is 25.5 percent.

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

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