NOAA Reports Bay’s Crab Population Rebounds but Juvenile Numbers Remain Low

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NOAA Reports Bay’s Crab Population Rebounds but Juvenile Numbers Remain LowWhile the overall crab population in the Chesapeake Bay rebounded significantly last year, the number of juvenile crabs remained well below the historical average, according to a report published by the NOAA-chaired Fisheries Steering Committee.

“New regulations implemented by the various bay jurisdictions in 2008 seem to be working,” said Peyton Robertson, director of the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office. “The continued improvements in science and their application to management appear to be resulting in a positive direction for the blue crab in the Chesapeake.”

The 2009 Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Advisory Report, developed by the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee, is based primarily on data collected in the 2008-09 bay-wide winter dredge survey, the most comprehensive and statistically robust annual blue crab survey conducted in the bay. The data show:

Abundance of blue crabs over the age of one was 223 million, a 70 percent increase from the 2007-08 survey numbers. This was primarily due to an increase in abundance of spawning-age females. Since the winter dredge survey began in 1990, the average blue crab population in the bay has been 186 million.

Bay-wide, numbers of juvenile crabs entering the population did not increase appreciably. There were an estimated 179 million juvenile crabs in the bay—well below the survey’s long-term average of 258 million.

The estimated 2008 harvest of blue crabs from the bay and tributaries was 48.6 million pounds—11 percent higher than the record-low 43.5 million pounds in 2007, but well below the long-term average of 74 million pounds.

Based on these statistics, an estimated 48 percent of crabs were harvested from the bay by commercial and recreational fishers in 2008. That is below the overfishing threshold of 53 percent, but slightly above the target of 46 percent.

“While it is heartening to see numbers rebound, resource managers need to maintain conservation measures until their full effects are known,” Robertson said. “We won’t know the full effectiveness of the new regulations implemented in 2008 until we study results from the next two winter dredge surveys.”

The Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee includes fisheries scientists from the University of Maryland, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, NOAA’s Fisheries Service and the states of Maryland and Virginia. The Fisheries Steering Committee works with the various bay management jurisdictions and is a forum where fisheries management agencies communicate and coordinate decisions across management boundaries.

The NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office focuses NOAA’s capabilities in science, service, and stewardship to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay.

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