WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH BLUE CRABS?
The blue crab is an iconic symbol of Chesapeake Bay and is the source of rich cultural
heritage in the region. The crab supports one of the last major commercial fisheries in
the Bay and provides the economic foundation for many small Bay-side communities.
The blue crab is also an essential component of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. For
these reasons, DNR is committed to ensuring that the blue crab resource is protected so
that it can continue to support sustainable fisheries for future generations, while fulfilling
its ecological role within the Bay. Between 1989 and 1998, the abundance of blue crab in
Chesapeake Bay declined dramatically. Since 1998, crab abundance has stabilized at
historically low levels. There are many reasons for this decline including fishing, poor
water quality, loss of key habitat such as submerged aquatic vegetation and oyster reefs,
and changing climatic conditions that potentially limit the ability of young crabs to return
to Chesapeake Bay after developing in the waters of the near-shore Atlantic.
HOW IS THE CHESAPEAKE CRAB FISHERY MANAGED?
In 2000 Maryland and Virginia reached consensus on a framework for managing a
sustainable Bay-wide blue crab fishery. This framework sets a limit for sustainable
fishing levels (removals from the population by fishing) that should not be exceeded, and
a minimum safe level of abundance of adult (spawning) male and female crabs. If
abundance drops below this level, there is no evidence that a sustainable fishery can be
maintained and there is a risk that the population will be unable to adequately reproduce.
The abundance of crabs in Chesapeake Bay is measured each year via the winter dredge
survey conducted by MD DNR and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
WHY ARE WE CONCERNED NOW?
The abundance of adult (spawning) crabs remains low – only slightly above the minimum
safe level. In 2007 there was extremely poor reproduction. This low number of young
crabs supported the 2007 fishery in the later part of the season, and those young crabs
that survived the 2007 fishery will become this year’s adult or spawner crabs. They will
create the next generation. Although the 2007 harvest in Maryland and Virginia was low,
the removals from the population will exceed the sustainable level. This worrisome
sequence of events - A low number of young crabs entering the population in 2007,
continued low abundance of adult crabs, and fishery removals that were too high in 2007,
all combine to increase the likelihood that the abundance of adult or spawning blue crabs
measured by the 2007-2008 Winter Dredge Survey will fall below the minimum safe
WHAT IS DNR’S PLAN FOR CRABS?
Maryland DNR is waiting for the results of the 2007-2008 winter dredge survey to fully
understand the status of the blue crab population. Based on these results, there will be a
couple of scenarios before us. One scenario would be worst case – that would be if adult
(spawner) abundance is below the minimum safe level. If this happens, Maryland and
Virginia will need to act in 2008 to ensure that we protect the reproductive capacity of the
The other scenario would be if adult abundance is once again just above the safe level. In
this case we will implement a plan to rebuild crab abundance so that we are not so close
to the minimum level year after year, which causes uncertainty and instability in the
fishery. By increasing abundance we can also increase our odds of healthy reproduction,
as well as a stable and more profitable fishery in the next decade.
Right now, DNR fisheries service is working with stakeholders to develop two
contingency plans (one for each scenario) that would be ready to implement in mid-April
or early-May 2008. We are looking for feedback from the industry. Below is a list of
meetings held over the past month. We would encourage anyone who is interested to
attend the meeting on February 28 in Annapolis. Details on time and place for this
meeting will be posted on our website at www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries. We will present
a summary of feedback we have gotten from individual industry meetings, exchange
more information, and begin to shape our two contingency plans. We will not be making
final decisions on February 28th. We expect that our conversations with stakeholders and
legislators will continue through March, and we hope to have a plan finalized by April 1,
February 7, 2008 - Tidal Fisheries Advisory Committee (TFAC).
February 13, 2008 - Seafood processors and packers (Chesapeake Bay Seafood
Industries) in Dorchester County.
February 19, 2008 - Smith Island Watermens Association.
February 25, 2008 – The Sport Fish Advisory Committee (SFAC)
February 28, 2008 – TFAC special meeting on crabs.
To see the presentations given to the TFAC, SFAC, processors and Smith Island, please
log onto our website at: http://www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/crab/crabindex.html