2010 Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Advisory Report

The 2010 Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Advisory Report, while noting that blue crabs appear to be making a comeback in the Chesapeake, recommends that the jurisdictions that manage the fishery keep conservation measures in place.

In early 2010, surveys estimate roughly 315 million harvestable (adult crabs 1+ years old) within the Chesapeake, an impressive 41 percent increase from 2009 numbers. The blue crab population rebuilding goal (200 million harvestable crabs) set by the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee (CBSAC) has been surpassed for two years in a row, but two years is not enough time to know if these numbers can be maintained over the long term.

“The 2010 numbers show continuation of a positive sign that crab populations in the Chesapeake Bay are rebounding,” said Peyton Robertson, director of the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office. “Living resource managers in the bay have made a commitment to working together and to using the best science available to manage blue crab stocks in the bay, and their efforts are paying off.”

Crab populations in the Bay hovered near historic lows for much of the last decade due to over exploitation, pollution, and reduced habitat. But this iconic crustacean is making a comeback—thanks in part to coordinated management efforts across bay jurisdictions in 2008 to reduce female harvest. However, the report notes that conservation measures need to continue to be maintained over time for their full effects to be studied.

The Blue Crab Advisory Report, developed by the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee and reviewed by the Executive Committee of the Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team, is based primarily on data collected in the 2009-10 bay-wide winter dredge survey, the most comprehensive and statistically robust annual blue crab survey conducted in the bay. The data shows:

* Harvestable blue crabs, those over the age of one year, increased by 41 percent from the 2009 estimate to 315 million. 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 192 million.

* Bay-wide, numbers of juvenile crabs entering the population doubled from last year’s estimated 179 million juvenile crabs to 345 million. The long-term average is 260 million.

* An estimated 43 percent of crabs were harvested from the bay by commercial and recreational fishers in 2009. The harvest restrictions put in place in 2008 and 2009 have maintained harvest at sustainable levels that appear to have allowed the population of blue crabs to grow.

* The estimated 2009 harvest of blue crabs from the bay and tributaries was 53.9 million pounds—24 percent higher than the record-low 43.5 million pounds in 2007, but well below the long-term average of 74 million pounds.

“The 2010 advisory report contains good news for Chesapeake Bay blue crabs and the associated fisheries,” noted Lynn Fegley of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, current chair of the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee. “The 2009 fishery did not exceed the target removal level and there is an increased abundance of adult and juvenile crabs to start the 2010 season. Going forward, it will be critical for the management jurisdictions to continue management strategies that ensure that exploitation on the spawning component of the stock remains within safe limits.”

The recently released “Strategy for Protection and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed” affirms NOAA’s support for continued regional blue crab management. Using the latest science, NOAA will continue to work through the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee and coordinate with the states and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission to reevaluate the blue crab interim rebuilding target by 2012. The new abundance target will be based on an updated blue crab stock assessment to be completed in 2011 and will help guide future management actions.

The Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee includes fisheries scientists from the University of Maryland, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, NOAAs Fisheries, and the states of Maryland and Virginia.

The Executive Committee of the Sustainable Fisheries Goal Team is composed of senior fisheries managers from across the Chesapeake Bay and focuses on facilitating fisheries management that encourages sustainable Chesapeake Bay fish populations, supports viable recreational and commercial fisheries, and promotes natural ecosystem function. The Sustainable Fisheries Goal Team provides the forum to discuss fishery management issues that cross state and other jurisdictional boundaries and better connect sound science to management decision making.

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

The Blue Crab Advisory Report and supporting figures are available at:

http://chesapeakebay.noaa.gov/fish-facts/blue-crab

source: NOAA press release

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