May 22, 2024 - News

Chesapeake blue crab population sees slight decline

Blue crabs in a bucket

Blue crabs. Photo: Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun via Getty Images

The Chesapeake Bay blue crab population is down slightly from last year, according to the annual Winter Dredge Survey.

Why it matters: The yearly "crab count," like a shellfish report card, measures the abundance and health of the population. The results can inform environmental practices and fishing regulations.

The big picture: Despite slight decreases, this year's crab-cast isn't dire. The numbers are still above 2022's record low population of an estimated 227 million crabs, which resulted in fishing restrictions and a shortened season.

  • The number of fertile female crabs, a major focus of the survey, also decreased. But not alarmingly so, according to Maryland's Department of Natural Resources (DNR), especially compared to 2009 when the crab fishery was declared a federal disaster due to severe population decline.

By the numbers: There are roughly 317 million blue crabs in the Chesapeake, according to the 2024 survey, which was conducted in Virginia and Maryland waters. It's a slight reduction from last year's count, which estimated 323 million crabs.

  • The only upswing is with juvenile crabs, whose population has remained below average for years. It rose slightly to 138 million.

What they're saying: "While [the population] is not where we'd like to see it, we have little reason for any type of alarm or major concern," DNR's Michael Luisi tells Axios. "We have a healthy and stable population."

Yes, but: The Chesapeake Bay Foundation still issued a warning asking states to "proceed with caution when considering regulatory changes for the upcoming seasons and avoid changes that would increase harvest."

The intrigue: So how are crabs counted? Scientists and commercial watermen dredge up the crustaceans "hibernating" on the Bay's bottom in cold winter months, assess them, and return them safely. The count has been going on since 1989.

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