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Chesapeake Bay blue crab population increases

A female blue crab.  (Photo courtesy of the VMRC)

Virginia Governor Timothy M. Kaine and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley recently announced that the Chesapeake Bay’s adult population of blue crabs has increased substantially over last year, indicating management measures put into place in 2008 to address population declines are working.

The results of the most recent bay-wide winter dredge survey, which is conducted annually by Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) and Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), estimate the total number of crabs over-wintering in the Chesapeake Bay has increased from 280 million in 2007-08 to just over 400 million in 2008-09.

“This is terrific news and a great first step, but this does not mean the problem is solved,” Governor Kaine said. “This scientific survey clearly shows we are on the right path but we need to continue our conservation efforts to rebuild this environmentally and economically vital species. I want to thank our crab industry for their support and endurance through these difficult times.”

The increase in abundance is primarily due to a striking increase in the number of adult female crabs, nearly double last year’s estimate. Coupled with a 50% increase in abundance of adult males, overall adult abundance in 2008-09 is estimated to be approximately 230 million crabs —  slightly over the interim target level of 200 million set by the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee in early 2008.

Despite the adult population increase, the abundance of young-of-the-year crabs (less than two inches across the carapace) did not change measurably from last year, and remains below the 18-year survey average.  These crabs will become vulnerable to the fisheries late in the 2009 season and represent the 2010 spawning potential.

“The success of these management measures sets the stage for the next step of recovery for the Bay’s blue crab, an increase in juveniles that we hope to see next year,” Governor O’Malley said.  “The ultimate challenge, of course, is to achieve a sustainable crab fishery and maintain it over time.”

Related article:
VMRC delays new crab regulations until May

posted 04.21.2009

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