DNR Releases 2008 Blue Crab Harvest Numbers

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The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Fisheries Service has released the 2008 blue crab harvest estimates from Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay. The Fisheries Service announced that the 2008 female harvest in Maryland was reduced between 28 to 36%. Based primarily on analyses of DNR independent surveys, Maryland estimates that 8.5 to 10.5 million pounds of female crabs were landed in 2008.

In 2008, the O’Malley-Brown Administration in cooperation with Virginia Governor Timothy M. Kaine took action to rebuild the Chesapeake Bay’s beleaguered blue crab population by reducing the harvest of ecologically valuable female blue crabs by 34 percent beginning in 2008.

“Had the regulations inspired by the actions of Governors O’Malley and Kaine not been in place, the 2008 Maryland female harvest was projected to have been approximately 13 million pounds,” said Tom O’Connell, Director of the DNR Fisheries Service. “Our estimates show a significant reduction in the number of female crabs taken in 2008.”

These estimates are based for the first time primarily on fishery independent data collected by DNR biologists.

The decision was made to base this year’s harvest estimates on fishery independent data due tosig significant discrepancies between the 2008 harvest reports from watermen and independent harvest measures observed in DNR surveys. Adjustments to reported harvest are not unprecedented. In the past, harvest numbers in both Maryland and Virginia have been adjusted to account for changes in commercial harvester reporting systems.

While annual harvest numbers are an important management tool, the most reliable measure of the health of the blue crab population is the Bay-wide winter dredge survey. The Bay-wide blue crab winter dredge survey, currently underway in a cooperative effort by DNR and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, will offer a more complete picture of blue crab population numbers once completed later this spring. Since 1990, the survey has employed dredges to sample blue crabs at 1,500 sites throughout the Chesapeake Bay from December through March. Officials claim that by sampling during winter when blue crabs are buried in the mud and stationary, scientists can precisely estimate the number of crabs in the Bay. Results of the 2009 blue crab winter dredge survey will provide the basis for potential management actions in 2009 and beyond.

Final estimates of the 2008 harvest and the resulting harvest reduction will be subject to review by members of the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee (CBSAC).

For 2009, DNR has proposed regulations that seek to:

* Maintain the target fishing removal level of 46% of the population.

* Continue to focus on conserving female crabs in order to rapidly build the spawning population.

* Distribute the impact of the commercial regulations over the crabbing season rather than focusing regulations in September and October as was done last year in 2008.

* Begin addressing the large number of unused crab licenses that have the potential to re-enter the fishery.

* Develop a sample frame so that recreational harvest of blue crabs, which is largely unknown, can be estimated.

For more information on what citizens and business can do to help protect blue crabs and the Chesapeake Bay visit http://www.dnr.state.md.us/bay/tribstrat/index.html.

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