Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Rain Dilutes Upper Bay Crabbing

Low salinity suspected for poor crab harvest in Upper Chesapeake
At the beginning of July, media across Maryland delivered good news for those planning a traditional feast of Chesapeake Bay blue crabs on Independence Day.

Baltimore TV station WJZ, for instance, touted a new report that the Bay’s crab population had increased 60% percent since 2018 — “meaning you can dig into 60% more crabs over Fourth of July weekend!” the station enthused.

“The survey is in,” echoed WMAR, another Baltimore station, “and it comes with great news for Maryland crab lovers!”

Someone apparently forgot to tell the crabs, at least in the Upper Bay. While supplies were generally ample in the Lower Bay through spring into summer, crabbers in other places had a hard time finding enough of the crustaceans to satisfy their crab-craving customers.

“In 43 years of crab potting, this has been the worst I’ve seen,” Charles County waterman Billy Rice complained shortly after the holiday weekend. Though his catch was starting to improve by mid-July, Rice, who crabs in the Potomac River, said the first half of the season had been so bad that he’d begun working fewer pots because there were so few crabs to be found in them.
Commercial crab picking

The TV stations weren’t reporting fake news. A winter survey by Maryland and Virginia scientists released in early May did find the Bay’s crab population had soared 60% over the previous year — to an estimated 594 million crabs, the highest number since 2012.

But the strong growth in the Bay’s crab population seen in the winter survey was no guarantee that there would be higher harvests everywhere in the Bay, and there weren’t — at least not through the first half of the commercial crabbing season. The season runs March 17 through Nov. 30 in Virginia and April 1 through Dec. 15 in Maryland.

While Virginia watermen were said to be pulling in more crabs than last year, some Maryland watermen were left struggling during spring and summer holidays trying to explain to frustrated customers why they couldn’t find the crab bounty that scientists had described.
I can't say for sure how the crabbers are doing off our shores; I haven't asked any, but if the numbers I've seen in the harbor are any indication, they must be having a good year.

The Wombat has Rule 5 Sunday: Katie Williams ready at The Other McCain.

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