The 2019 Blue Crab Advisory Report finds the overall Chesapeake Bay blue crab population to be not depleted or overfished. Additionally, the most recent winter blue crab dredge survey estimated that the Chesapeake Bay is home to 594 million blue crabs, a 60% increase over last year.
Results of the survey, conducted by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, show that the Bay’s total adult female blue crab population has increased nearly 30% to 191 million. This is well above the abundance threshold of 70 million crabs and near the target of 215 million crabs.
Experts assess the sustainability of the blue crab stock by comparing the percentage of the female blue crab population harvested each year to a 25.5% target and a 34% overfishing threshold. Because the latest female harvest levels are below both of these “reference points,” the blue crab population is not considered depleted, nor is it being overfished.
The juvenile blue crab population—crabs that will grow to be a harvestable size this fall—increased to 322 million, which is above the long-term average of 224 million. Due to the warmer weather this past winter, the percent of crabs that died in between the fall and spring was lower than usual at 1.8% compared to 6.37% last winter.
The Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee (CBSAC) develops the annual Blue Crab Advisory Report by evaluating both the winter dredge survey and harvest data to develop advice for fisheries managers. As part of the Chesapeake Bay Program, CBSAC—which includes representatives from state agencies, academic institutions and federal fisheries experts—supports the Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team.
An estimated 55 million pounds of blue crabs were commercially harvested from the Chesapeake Bay last year, which is below the 1990-2018 averages. Commercial and recreational crabbers harvested 23% of the female blue crab population in 2018.
CBSAC recommends that Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission maintain a cautious, risk-averse approach to blue crab management, put procedures in place to provide accurate accountability for all commercial and recreational harvests and explore new reporting technologies.
“By using sound science included in this annual report to manage the fishery, the Bay jurisdictions have enabled responsible harvest of female blue crabs for the past 10 consecutive years,” said Sean Corson, chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team, in a media release. “Consumers can enjoy their Chesapeake Bay crab feasts knowing blue crabs are responsibly managed.”