Blue Crabs

Blue crabs are vital to our region's economy and culture and an important part of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.

Line graph illustrating the total blue crab population in the Chesapeake Bay from 1990 to 2019.

Blue Crabs

For most of the last two decades, the total number of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay has lingered below the long-term average. Because blue crabs are so important to the region's ecosystem and economy, both Maryland and Virginia monitor the blue crab population through an annual Winter Dredge Survey. The crabs that are collected at each of the survey's 1,500 sampling sites are measured, weighed, sexed and aged, and the data is used to estimate the number of young crabs entering the population, the number of female crabs old enough to spawn and the total number of harvestable crabs in the Bay.

405 million

The total number of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay

According to data from the Winter Dredge Survey, an estimated 405 million blue crabs lived in the Bay in 2020. This is a 31% decrease from 594 million crabs in 2019. 

In the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, the Chesapeake Bay Program set a population target and an overfishing threshold for adult female blue crabs. In 2020, an estimated 141 million adult female blue crabs lived in the Bay, compared with 191 million in 2019. This number is above the 70 million overfishing threshold but below the 215 million target. 

Blue crabs are vulnerable to pollution, habitat loss and harvest pressure. Water quality improvements, underwater grass restoration and proper harvest management will be critical to maintaining this valuable resource.