Lovers of Maryland steamed crabs can rejoice. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources released its 2016 Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey and it shows another year of growth in the Chesapeake Bay crab population. That's good news for this year's crab harvest.
The survey shows a crab population of 553-million in the Bay. That's a 35% increase over last year and puts the population at its fourth highest level in the last 20 years.
Fisheries Service Director Dave Blazer credits a mild winter, favorable currents and tides, and improved management of the fishery. "With an increase in abundance and steady recruitment, we fully anticipate a robust crab season this year," said Blazer.
The survey found improvements in all age groups of male and female crabs. Spawning age female stock nearly doubled from 101 to 194 million. That's still below DNR's target of 215 million and means it will be cautious in considering any management adjustments.
“The highly variable nature of the blue crab population means that we must maintain a degree of caution in considering management adjustments,” Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee Chairman Glenn Davis said.
Chris Moore, senior scientist with Chesapeake Bay Foundation agrees.
“The results of the survey are good news. However, fishery managers should remain cautious as the number of adult, female blue crabs are still below the levels that science recommends. Continued conservative management of the fishery and improving water quality by implementing the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint are the keys to building and sustaining a healthy crab population.”
Still, an increase in harvest limits for female crabs isn't out of the question.
“Our experts will now discuss the survey results with our internal and external stakeholders,” Blazer said. “Any modest adjustment to the current regulations, be it season length or bushel limit, will be considered only after the department receives input from all parties.”
A full analysis from the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee is expected to be released this summer.