Between 2016 and 2017, the abundance of adult (age 1+) female blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay increased 31 percent from 194 million to 254 million. This number is above the 70 million threshold and the 215 million target, and marks the highest amount ever recorded by the Bay-wide Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey.
This outcome’s female-specific reference points were recommended by the 2011 blue crab benchmark stock assessment and adopted in 2012. Where adult female blue crab abundance falls in relation to these numbers informs management decisions for the blue crab fishery.
Blue crabs support commercial and recreational fisheries across the region. Because there is natural variability in annual blue crab populations, blue crab abundance is expected to fluctuate from year to year. Since data collection began in 1990, the abundance of adult female blue crabs has peaked three times: first in 1991 when abundance reached 227 million, second in 2010 when abundance reached 246 million and third in 2017 when abundance reached a record high 254 million adult female crabs.
Anthropogenic activity—including harvest pressure and development that leads to the loss of fish and shellfish habitat—can affect blue crab populations. Environmental factors—including winter temperatures, coastal currents, weather patterns and natural predation—can also affect blue crab abundance.
To achieve the blue crab abundance outcome, participating partners have committed to:
- Planning and implementing a benchmark stock assessment; and
- Continuing to support the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee’s annual review of the status of the blue crab population.
These partners will also collaborate with the work being done to achieve the climate adaptation, climate monitoring and assessment, fish habitat, forage fish, submerged aquatic vegetation, and water quality standards attainment and monitoring outcomes.
Monitoring and assessing progress toward the outcome will occur through the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee’s (CBSAC) annual review of blue crab survey data and determination of population status relative to biological reference points. The continuation of the annual Bay-wide Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey will be essential in estimating the blue crab population and monitoring the stock.
Work PlanChesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to taking specific actions over the course of 2016 and 2017 to achieve the high-level approaches identified in the management strategy above.
The Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team leads the effort to achieve this outcome.
Participating partners include:
- Maryland Department of Natural Resources (State of Maryland)
- Virginia Marine Resources Commission (Commonwealth of Virginia)
- Potomac River Fisheries Commission
- Chesapeake Bay Commission
- National Marine Fisheries Service (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia also engage commercial and recreational blue crab harvesters through committees and advisory groups, which include the Maryland Blue Crab Industry Advisory Committee, Blue Crab Industry Design Team, Sport Fisheries Advisory Commission and Tidal Fisheries Advisory Commission; the Virginia Blue Crab Industry Panel and Marine Resources Commission Crab Management Advisory Committee; and the Potomac River Crab Advisory Committee.