Blue Crab picking parties are good to go for another year, although they won’t be cheap. Here’s why.

There should be plenty of Maryland blue crabs to eat this summer. A new state survey finds the amount of crabs available for harvest are at a safe level for the seventh consecutive year. The overall number of Chesapeake Bay crabs is still low compared to what it used to be five years ago, but the 2015 survey showed good news — plenty of spawning age females. 

“Despite the harsh winter temperatures, we are pleased that crab numbers increased,” said Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton. “This is good news for the crabs and for Marylanders who enjoy them all summer long.”

That was a concern last year. They found so few adult female crabs that the sooks were considered “depleted.” In attempt to stop the skid, Maryland restricted the amount of females that watermen could catch by 20- to 40-percent, depending on the time of year and type of crabbing license.

Female Maryland blue crabs in 2015
Graph courtesy Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Then winter came; and stayed. State officials were worried that the rough winter would override their efforts and make the crab situation worse. As a result of the survey, they figure the extreme cold killed about 19 percent of the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crabs, however the 2015 Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey showed some surprising results:

  •  Juvenile crabs increased 35 percent from 2014, and more than doubled from the record low in 2013.
  • The 2015 juvenile abundance of 269 million crabs is just above the 26 year average of 261 million.
  • The total abundance of crabs — which include juveniles, and adult males and females – was approximately 411 million.

They attribute the increases to a complicated mix of factors including crabbing restrictions, coastal currents, weather patterns, and any number of issues they’re still trying to figure out.

number of Maryland blue crabs
Number of crabs available to eat (Graph courtesy Maryland Department of Natural Resources)

The results of this survey will be used to decide whether crabbing regulations need to be adjusted for this summer. That decision will be made in early summer.

The price of blue crabs was up last summer. No word yet on what might happen this summer.

Prime soft-shell crab season is coming up, mid-May through mid-June. Hard-shell blue crabs are available now but supply may be limited because the season is just beginning.

Why is a crab study called a “Dredge Survey?” Because crabs bury themselves in the mud and stay put for the winter. They’re easier to count when they’re not moving around. Researchers scoop them up by towing a six-foot-wide Virginia crab dredge fitted with a half inch nylon mesh liner along the Bay’s muddy bottom for one minute at a speed of three knots. They do that at 1,500 sites throughout the middle and upper Chesapeake to find, count and measure buried crabs.

 

The total estimated number of crabs living in the bay for each year of the survey is listed below:

 Year  Millions of Crabs  Year  Millions of Crabs  Year  Millions of Crabs
 1990  791  2000  281  2010  663
 1991  828  2001  254  2011  452
 1992  367  2002  315  2012  765
 1993  852  2003  334  2013  300
 1994  487  2004  270  2014  297
 1995  487  2005  400  2015  411
 1996  661  2006  313
 1997  680  2007  251
 1998  353  2008  293
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