A recent blue crab advisory report encourages resource managers to maintain a “risk-averse” approach to setting regulations in order to promote healthy numbers of the Chesapeake Bay’s crabs in the future.
The 2015 Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Advisory Report was developed by the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee (CBSAC), which includes scientists and representatives from federal and state governments and academic institutions. The report is based on data collected in the Bay-wide winter dredge survey and on annual estimates of blue crab harvest.
Blue crabs are not overfished, and overfishing is not occurring.
The number of female crabs increased in 2015, and the female population is no longer “depleted” as it was were in 2014. There were approximately 101 million female spawning-age crabs in the Chesapeake Bay at the start of the 2015 crabbing season. This is above the established threshold of 70 million, but not as many as the target of 215 million.
Currently, regulations aim to enable roughly 25%—but no more than 34%—of female blue crabs to be harvested each year. In 2014, only 17% of the female population was harvested.
Numbers of juvenile crabs are up from last year, as well. It is estimated that there were 269 million juvenile crabs in the Bay at the start of 2015 crabbing season.
In 2014, the overall Bay-wide commercial harvest of blue crabs was 35 million pounds, down slightly from 37 million in 2013.
Estimates of overwintering mortality of blue crabs in the Bay are some of the highest in recent history. More than 15% of blue crabs in the Bay are estimated to have died over the extremely cold 2014-15 winter.
The report also features short- and long-term management advice, including encouraging all three jurisdictions to continue their efforts to improve the quality of their catch and effort information submitted by both commercial and recreational crabbers. The CBSAC scientists also recommend that jurisdictions consider establishing a year-round sanctuary for mature females in the lower Bay and complementary sanctuaries or other management measures in the upper Bay that would promote survival of mature females. Also, the reports states that to sharpen accuracy of harvest data, improving estimates of recreational harvest of blue crabs must be made a priority.
The advisory report was formally approved by Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team. The Team provides a forum to discuss fishery management issues that cross state and other jurisdictional boundaries and better connect sound science to management decision making.
More information on Chesapeake Bay Program outcomes related to the blue crab fishery is available at www.chesapeakebay.net/chesapeakebaywatershedagreement/goal/sustainable_fisheries.
source: Chesapeake Bay Program