Maryland, Virginia, Shorten Crab Season Amid Population Decline

Photo: Stephen Badger, Maryland DNR

Photo: Stephen Badger, Maryland DNR

In response to a new report from Bay scientists that shows a decline in the overall blue crab population, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission will both shorten this year's crab season.

Maryland DNR announced Tuesday that the adult female blue crab season will end November 20, 2017, and that bushel limits will be reduced compared to last year.

Read Maryland DNR's public notice here.

VMRC will end crab season November 30, and won't reopen until March 17, 2018. That equates to 16 fewer crabbing days. The commission will also reduce bushel limits for the entire month of November.

The annual Blue Crab Advisory Report, released by the Chesapeake Bay Program, confirms that the 2017 estimated population of adult female blue crabs was higher than the target. But the population of crabs as a whole has declined.

The report includes expert analyses of data from the annual Bay-wide Winter Dredge Survey, released earlier this year, as well as harvest estimates from recent years.

The report indicates that while numbers of adult female crabs in the Bay increased by 30 percent in 2017, the overall crab population decreased by almost 18 percent from 553 million in 2016 to 455 million in 2017. Notably, the number of juvenile crabs decreased by 54 percent from 2016 to 2017. 

Photo: Stephen Badger, Maryland DNR

Photo: Stephen Badger, Maryland DNR

“The highly variable nature of blue crabs was on full display this past year,” said Glenn Davis, chair of the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee and Maryland Department of Natural Resources. “The largest abundance of spawning females from the Winter Dredge Survey time series was great news, and demonstrated what can happen when jurisdictions adhere to science-based management. The low recruitment served as a reminder that large inter-annual fluctuations can be part of the norm and that managing blue crabs is a continuous challenge.”

During the 2016 crabbing season, approximately 60 million pounds of blue crabs were harvested from the Bay and its tributaries by commercial fishermen—roughly 20 percent more than in 2015. Recreational crabbers harvested just over four million pounds. The report finds the Chesapeake Bay blue crab stock is currently not depleted and overfishing is not occurring.

For the remainder of 2017, the report does recommend that Bay jurisdictions should scale back the fall fishery from last year's looser regulations, to protect more juvenile crabs. Those young crabs could then grow old enough to spawn next year, and in turn, produce more crabs.

Megan Viviano