Monday, February 4, 2013

Annual Crab Survey: Good News, Bad News

The general crab and young blue crab populations are very healthy, the head of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission says. VMRC Commissioner Jack Travelstead said the crab population in the bay has reached 764 million – the highest in nearly 20 years. "The good news is, blue crabs are not overfished," Travelstead said.

However, the population of adult female blue crabs – which the crabbing industry relies upon for the next generation of stock – is low. "The number of spawning-age crabs, the adults in the population, declined last year — fairly significantly," Travelstead said.

In 2011, the population of spawning-age females was estimated at 194 million, approaching the target of 215 million. But in 2012, a survey found only about 97 million spawning-age females. This comes close to 70 million, a number that would officially label blue crabs as "overfished."
Crab populations are pretty well know to undergo pretty wild fluctuations in recruitment due to weather at the time young crabs recruit into the bay, however, the development of a strong imbalance in the numbers of females and males suggests a sex specific effect; probably fishing.  It is probably time to cut back on crab fishing (again), but particularly those parts of the fishery that target females, the open bay pot fishery which catches crabs for canning.

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