A blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) captured in a fishing net. (Photo: NOAA)
Crab numbers in Chesapeake Bay decline, but stock continues to improve
Thursday, December 22, 2011, 02:20 (GMT + 9)
Chesapeake Bay blue crabs continue to show signs of rebounding even though 2011 numbers are lower than those of 2010, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) 2011 Blue Crab Advisory Report. The report recommends ongoing efforts to sustain robust crab populations over the long term and emphasizes protecting female crabs.
It was developed by the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee, which is made up of NOAA fisheries scientists and representatives from academia and state governments. It uses data from the 2010-11 bay-wide winter dredge survey and the 2011 Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Stock Assessment.
The data show that numbers of juvenile crabs entering the population fell from an estimated 345 million juvenile crabs in 2010 to 207 million in 2011, mainly because of too-cold temperatures in the winter, which caused crab mortalities. This number varies widely from year to year.
The report also found that harvestable blue crabs--those older than one year—dropped by 19 per cent from 315 million to 254 million. Still, this is well above the 1990-2010 average of 192 million crabs.
Since the blue crab season extends into December, final numbers on what percentage of the bay’s blue crab population was harvested in 2011 are not yet available.
Meanwhile, considering that blue crabs are making a healthy comeback, the report recommends that management agencies work to increase the number of blue crabs in the bay to 215 million female crabs and 200 million male crabs. This would ensure that blue crabs are sufficiently abundant so as to not suffer too great a loss from challenges like a dramatic cold snap, which caused this year’s crash.
This echoes the recommendation in the recent Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Stock Assessment released in August. The jurisdictions that manage blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay will use science from these reports to help form their regulations for 2012.
“We are going to be paying careful attention to the performance of the 2011 fishery relative to the new female-specific reference points. This is one of the things we’ll need to evaluate as we plan measures for the 2012 fishery,” said Lynn Fegley of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and current chair of the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee.
- Blue crabs repopulating Chesapeake Bay: report
By Natalia Real
Photo Courtesy of FIS Member National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA/NMFS