This Chesapeake Bay Program video shows the problem. Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs are way down this year (2014); the lowest reported harvest in 25 years. A winter dredge survey found the female population of crabs so low that the number of crabs is threatened for seasons to come. Maryland and Virginia had their representatives meet with scientists to talk about solutions. The Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee (CBSAC) has released its recommendations.
The report suggests state, local and private jurisdictions:
- Consider quotas on crabs
- Create a year-round sanctuary for mature female crabs in the lower Bay & seasonal sanctuaries during spawning season on the upper Bay
- Implement a crab-pot marking system to better monitor crab harvests
- Keep an eye on crab licenses that are currently going unused & have a plan ready if crabbers decide to start using those licenses again
- Improve electronic reporting on harvest counts for both commercial and recreational fisheries
The report also recommends Maryland and Virginia get together on their methods and gear to monitor the crab populations. It found that the two states are better coordinated than they used to be, but still need to work on it. And over all, the report says, states and federal governments need to pay for more studies — of what’s causing crabs to die over the winter, of how many crabs are hanging out in shallow water, and about crab sexual relations.
Yes, you read that right — a study of crab sex is needed. “The potential for sperm limitation resulting from a lower abundance of sexually mature male crabs is discussed in several recent studies,” the Committee says, “CBSAC recommends continued examination to quantify and better understand the role (of) male crabs on reproductive success and overall population productivity.”
On the bright side, the report finds that while the number of female crabs in 2014 was below the recommended target for the sixth consecutive year, the number of juvenile crabs increased and is at a healthy level. The report says protecting that baby boom will increase spawning age crabs in 2015. That means continued cooked crab feasts throughout the Chesapeake Bay region for years to come.