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Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab population remains 'steady,' spawning-age female numbers surge

The results of this year’s survey were released by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) on Wednesday.

BALTIMORE (WBFF) -- The number of spawning-age female crabs in the Chesapeake Bay have surged to the highest level recorded in the 28-year history of the Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey.

The results of this year’s baywide survey were released by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) on Wednesday.

It said the overall population was found to be “resilient and steady" despite a slight decrease in the overall population due to "lackluster recruitment."

“Despite the modest number of young crabs, the total population remains stable and the number of spawning age females – a major scientific benchmark for the health of the species – rose,” Fishing and Boating Services Director David Blazer said. “This is testament to the state’s adaptive and effective management of the fishery.”

The survey estimated the overall crab population at 455 million, the 11th highest level recorded.

The spawning female stock increased by 31% year-over-year to 254 million, while the adult male stock decreased by 16%.

“The results of the survey are a mixed bag, but they show a continuing positive trend overall for the health of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab,” Chris Moore, Senior Scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said in a statement. “Spawning age female crabs are at record levels, a sign that the Bay-wide management plan is working, but juvenile crab numbers fell well below average, and adult males diminished. Generally, watermen have reported good crab harvests thus far this spring, and we hope those numbers hold. Considering the results of the survey, the late summer and fall harvests might not be quite so robust."

The MDNR projects a "healthy abundance" of adult crabs for crabbers from April to July, but noted that a scarcity of young crabs in midsummer may mean more challenging conditions later in the year --- and next year as well.

“The crab population is affected year to year by weather and other factors,” added Moore. “We can help by continuing to reduce pollution, and to restore crab habitat such as underwater grass beds where juvenile crabs find protection from predators. The low number of juveniles suggests we need to keep in place the suite of crab management regulations first agreed to in 2008 by Virginia and Maryland. We also must maintain federal funding for critical crab management programs, such as underwater grasses restoration.”

The Winter Dredge Survey takes place every year and was first conducted in 1990.

The annual survey is a four-month collaboration between the MDNR and Virginia Institute of Marine Science, from December through March.

During the survey, biologists capture, measure, record and release blue crabs at 1,500 locations in the Chesapeake Bay to develop the population estimates.

According to the MDNR, the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee is now reviewing the survey results.

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