Winter Dredge Survey: Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population remains strong

May 23, 2024
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Chesapeake Bay Hard Crabs Blue Crabs

By Linda Cicoira

Findings from the 2024 Bay-wide Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey indicate the Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab population remains stable, according to a Virginia Marine Resources Commission representative.

Conducted annually for nearly 35 years by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the survey uses traditional dredges to sample blue crabs at 1,500 sites throughout the Chesapeake Bay from December to March. An estimated blue crab abundance of 317 million in the winter of 2024 was recorded, with adult female crabs continuing to surpass average levels for the second consecutive year.

Scientists and managers say closely monitoring and managing the adult female population is important because they play a crucial role in propagating each year’s cohort of new crabs. The study showed female crabs are responding well to the management changes implemented following the 2008 Blue Crab Fishery Disaster declaration and to the absence of overfishing.

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“One of the most influential management measures that has contributed to the long-term success in blue crab fisheries management has been the license-specific bushel limits implemented by Virginia in 2013,” said Commissioner Jamie Green, of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. “This provides Virginia the flexibility to reduce regulatory burdens that would economically benefit the industry while maintaining the long-term conservation goals of the joint Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions.”

A collaborative effort supported by Virginia, Maryland, and the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office is underway to conduct a comprehensive stock assessment over the next 2-3 years. The stock assessment will consider factors such as habitat availability, water temperature and salinity, ocean dynamics, and predator abundance, with results expected to inform future management strategies.

In Virginia, stakeholders can learn more about the survey results during the VMRC’s Crab Management Advisory Committee meeting, which starts at 4 p.m. on May 29.

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