The number of blue crabs, and female crabs in particular, has continued to decline in the Chesapeake, and fishery managers say findings of their annual survey will likely translate into further catch restrictions this year.
The declining number of crabs was also reflected in last year’s harvest, which preliminary figures put at 37 million pounds — the lowest on record.
The Chesapeake Bay winter dredge survey showed that the number of adult female blue crabs fell to 69 million, slightly less than the 70 million which is considered the minimum “safe” number to maintain the stock. That was also the lowest number seen in the Bay since 2002.
Fisheries officials said the drop was caused in part by harsh winter conditions. In Maryland, scientists conducting the survey estimated that the cold killed 28 percent of adult crabs.
But the impact of the cold was exacerbated by the few crabs to begin with. A year ago, scientists had found the second lowest number of juvenile crabs in the survey — 111 million — since the first survey in 1990.
“The fewer crabs you have when hit with a winter die-off, then the more problematic the die off becomes,” said Rob O’Reilly, chief of fisheries management for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.
The survey showed that juvenile crabs rebounded to 199 million this winter, but remains well below the number seen in several recent years.
Yep, it's always the bad weather, and not over fishing. Really, though, I don't have the bad feelings about Chesapeake Blue Crabs that I have about Chesapeake Oysters. Crabs seem to be a much more variable species, with good and bad years for no apparent reason other than weather at a critical time in the migration of juvenile crab larvae into the Bay. Nevertheless, strong limits should be put on the harvest this year to prevent a "death spiral" in crab numbers.