Apr
15

Blue Crab Population Up 60 Percent

By Alex Moe  //  Fishing Industry, Regulation  //  33 Comments

Photograph by Alex Moe

Watermen and scientists spent the winter months counting the blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay and have finally released their findings. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources annual winter crab dredge survey report determined that the crab population has increased 60 percent in the last year. There are now 658 million crabs in the bay. This is the highest crab count since 1997.

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley announced the news on April 14 at the Fisherman’s Inn Crab Deck on Kent Narrows, where he proclaimed it a great day because “The Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population is actually roaring back, and actually coming back stronger than many would ever have predicted.” O’Malley was joined by many other officials, including DNR Secretary John Griffin and Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker.

The best news of the day, according to Lynn Fegley of DNR’s Fisheries Service, was the increase in the adult crabs because they spawn and produce the next generation of crabs. Fegley said it was the highest the adult crabs have been since the early 90′s.

Photograph by Alex Moe

Even with the apparent turnaround in the crab population, officials are unlikely to lift the current restrictions on crabbing. At the press conference, Griffin said, “Two years does not necessarily make a trend.”  He went on to say he wants to “avoid some of the boom and the bust from the past– 1993 and 1997, where we had a spike up in abundance and then a quick drop off.”

But many who work in the industry, including Jack Brooks, President of the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Association and co-owner of a crabmeat processing plant in Cambridge, want more freedom to catch. Brooks said the higher population is good news and hopes it “will enable an easing up on some of those restrictions to enable the folks to get back and benefit from their sacrifices.”

April 1 marked the start of crabbing season in the Chesapeake Bay, and it will be interesting to see how the harvest season turns out this year.

The owner of Fisherman’s Inn, Sonny Stulz, said he is optimistic for Maryland’s blue crabs. “We have to deal a lot with Louisiana and Texas to get our crabs” Stulz said, “so to get them locally would be great.”

CBF applauded the efforts made by Maryland and Virginia to bring back the crabs and said that the work must continue. “This is not the end of the problem of threatened Bay species and a struggling Bay seafood industry,” Baker said, “but it is a sign that managed the right way, the fisheries can respond and even flourish again.”

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Bay on the Brink is a multimedia reporting project examining the fate of the Chesapeake Bay. It is produced by fellows at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism as part of News21, a consortium of journalism schools. This is the fellows' blog. The full project site is here: http://chesapeake.news21.com
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