Local crabbers worried about drop in blue crab harvest; juvenile crustaceans are down 54%

Crabbers worried about drop in blue crab harvest
Posted at 5:29 PM, Jul 07, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-07 19:23:29-04

For the past twelve years Captain Richard Young and his crew have been getting blue crabs out of the Chesapeake Bay.

"We have 900 pots in the water and we harvest premium crabs every day," he said.

They put in long hours aboard the Island Girl the entire span of the commercial crabbing season.

But lately the catch has crashed for Coveside Crabs in Dundalk.

"This year has been disappointing, we did alright through about the third week of June, and since then the crab catch has dropped off tremendously," said Lee Carrion.

The commercial crabbers normally bring in about a dozen blue crabs per pot.  That's fallen down to about two.

“Oh yeah, Fourth of July we turned probably 30 or 40 people away because we couldn't get the crabs for them," Young said.

A concerning turn of the tide that could impact the business' bottom line and cost consumers more.

"If this keeps up we won't be able to afford to run as frequently as we do now," said Carrion.

But a recent report isn't very promising.  To check on the crab population, researchers do a winter survey each year by dredging the crustaceans from their muddy burrows.  This year they found nearly 100-million fewer crabs in the bay.

The count found a record high for adult-females, but the juvenile crab population plummeted 54%.  Those are the shellfish crabbers will catch next season.

"This could be devastating news for next year, for our industry,” Carrion said.  “And we are very concerned about it."

"It means a very dismal harvest, it means very, very small numbers of adult males and females for next year because there aren't any juveniles to grow into the mature crabs," said Young.

Because of the report, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources announced last week it’s ending the adult female crab season earlier than last year on November 20th.

The Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Advisory Report was also released at the end of June.  It recommends a cautious, risk-averse approach in 2017 regulations.