The annual Blue Crab Advisory Report, released Wednesday by the Chesapeake Bay Program and developed by the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee, finds that the overall Chesapeake Bay blue crab population decreased by almost 18 percent from 455 million in 2017 to 372 million in 2018.

The report provides scientific analysis of the Bay’s blue crab population to help Bay resource managers as they set blue crab fishing regulations. The Chesapeake Bay Program’s Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team recently approved the 2018 edition of the report.

According to the report and the scientific reference points that resource managers follow for “target” (healthy) and “threshold” (border between safe and unsafe) levels, the Chesapeake Bay blue crab population is currently not depleted, and it is not being overfished.

Notably, the estimated 2018 population of 147 million adult females was lower than the target of 215 million. Scientists place a special focus on females as they develop the analysis because they are key to future success of the species. In the 2017 blue crab fishing season, 21 percent of all female blue crabs were harvested—safely below the target (25.5 percent) and threshold (34 percent) levels.

The blue crab fishery in the Chesapeake Bay is managed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Virginia Marine Resources Commission and Potomac River Fisheries Commission. The Blue Crab Advisory Report includes expert analysis of data from the annual Bay-wide Winter Dredge Survey (released earlier this year by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources) and harvest estimates from recent years.

The number of juvenile crabs—which will grow to be harvestable size this fall—increased by 34 percent from 2017 to 2018, while adult males decreased 23 percent from 76 to 58 million. Overwintering mortality—the measure of crabs that die between fall and spring, due to factors including water temperature—was 6.37 percent, slightly higher than the average of 4.6 percent.

The Advisory Report recommends:

  • Jurisdictions should maintain a cautious, risk-averse approach in 2018; no adjustments to management are suggested.
  • Jurisdictions should implement procedures that provide accurate accountability of all commercial and recreational harvest to enable more accurate future assessments of the Bay’s blue crab population.

This multiagency report supports the blue crab abundance outcome outlined in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, which seeks to maintain a sustainable blue crab population, supporting healthy commercial and recreational harvest.

Local seafood dealer Tony Edwards of Edwards Seafood sized up the season so far.

 

Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) interim Environmental Protection and Restoration Vice President Alison Prost issued this statement following the release of the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee’s (CBSAC) annual blue crab report.

“Conservative, scientific management of the Bay’s blue crab population is working.  Although the number of adult females dropped from the previous year, it is still well in the healthy range.  Highlighting the positive fishery management actions, the report indicated that the catch has been below the mortality target for the past 10 years.  

“With water quality improving and underwater grasses at record levels, CBF is hopeful that continued conservative management and improved habitat conditions will lead to positive benefits for both crabs and crabbers. 

“As recommended by the CBSAC report, we hope management jurisdictions will work to maintain the status quo for harvest during the upcoming crabbing season.