The Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Virginia Marine Resources Commission recently released the results of the 2016 Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey. The survey indicates a bay-wide crab population of 553 million, a 35-percent increase over last year, and the fourth highest level in two decades.
Improvements were seen in all age groups of male and female crabs. The spawning female stock nearly doubled from 101 to 194 million and the adult male stock more than doubled from 44 to 91 million.
The number of spawning-age female crabs remains below the 215 million target but above the minimum threshold established in 2011. The juvenile crab abundance increased slightly from 269 million to 271 million, which is just above the 27-year average.
The 2015 bay-wide crab harvest increased by 42 percent over 2014 to 50 million pounds and remained at sustainable levels for the eighth consecutive year. This combined with increased abundance means that a slight liberalization of harvest limits for female crabs may be warranted this summer.
The Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee (CBSAC) is reviewing the new survey results and will release their full analysis of the results in the 2016 Blue Crab Advisory Report this summer. The advisory report is used by managers as they review and update fishery regulations.
The annual Winter Dredge Survey, conducted by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Virginia Institute of Marine Science, is the primary assessment of the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population.
sources: Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
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