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Chesapeake Bay News

Jun
30
2016

Blue crab stock considered sustainable, but adult females remain below target levels

According to fisheries experts, the Chesapeake Bay blue crab stock is not depleted and overfishing is not occurring. Nevertheless, experts recommend maintaining a risk-averse, or cautious, approach to blue crab management: just two years ago, adult female blue crabs were considered depleted. Even after a 183 percent rise in their population between 2014 and 2016, their numbers remain below target levels.

The abundance of adult female blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay has increased 183 percent over the past two years. An estimated 15 percent of this population was harvested last year, which is far below the overfishing threshold.

The 2016 Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Advisory Report was released by the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee (CBSAC). It includes blue crab population and harvest data from Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, as well as expert recommendations on maintaining a sustainable blue crab fishery.

According to the report, the start of the 2016 crabbing season saw an estimated 194 million adult female blue crabs in the Bay. This marks a 92 percent increase from last year’s abundance of adult females, which the Chesapeake Bay Program tracks as part of its progress toward the goals and outcomes of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. Because adult female blue crab abundance is above the 70 million threshold, the blue crab stock is not considered depleted. And because just 15 percent of adult females were harvested in 2015—well below the 25.5 percent target—overfishing is not occurring.

“The blue crab population is at a healthy level,” said Maryland Department of Natural Resources Biologist and CBSAC Chair Glenn Davis in a media release. “It is encouraging to see adult females rebound from a depleted state… but that also serves as a reminder of how quickly things can change with this animal.”

Blue crabs support commercial and recreational fisheries across the region. Poor water quality, habitat loss, harvest pressure and predation affect their continued health. Here, a sluggish male crab rests on the deck of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) R/V Bay Eagle after being caught in the Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey near the mouth of the York River.

In its report, CBSAC—which includes scientists and representatives from state agencies and academic institutions, as well as federal fisheries experts—recommends the improvement of harvest and fishing effort estimates, the jurisdictional coordination of complementary management measures and the evaluation of an allocation-based blue crab management framework. An allocation-based management framework would allocate an annual total allowable catch (TAC) of blue crabs for the Bay’s commercial and recreational fisheries among its three management jurisdictions: Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission. The report recognizes the importance of future stock assessments in providing in-depth scientific guidance to support blue crab management.

“It’s great to see that the Chesapeake Bay blue crab population has increased over the past two years and we are close to achieving the target of 215 million adult female blue crabs outlined in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Chesapeake Bay Office Director and Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team Chair Peyton Robertson in a media release. “The annual Advisory Report continues to provide valuable counsel for jurisdictional fishery managers as they work toward sustaining the blue crab population at that level over the long term.”

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