Blue Crabs Make A Strong Comeback In The Chesapeake Bay

bushel-blue-crabsIn a joint announcement Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley declared the Chesapeake Bay blue crab population has surged for the second year. The latest survey estimates the population has risen to 658 million crabs, a 60 percent increase from last year and the highest seen since 1997.   The population estimate is the result of the 2009-2010 bay-wide winter dredge survey conducted annually by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS). The bay-wide blue crab winter dredge survey is the primary survey used to assess the condition of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab population. Since 1990, the survey has employed crab dredges to sample blue crabs at 1,500 sites throughout the Chesapeake Bay from December through March. By sampling during winter when blue crabs are buried in the mud and stationary, scientists can develop, with good precision, estimates of the number of crabs present in the bay.

Governor McDonnell remarked, “This is shaping up to be a tremendous environmental success story. The crab population is booming. Harvests are up. Our commercial crabbers’ jobs and the waterman’s way of life now appear to be on the path to sustainability.   This is great news for everyone who makes their living by crabbing and for everyone who enjoys genuine Chesapeake Bay crab cakes and she-crab soup.”

While the report is a very positive sign McDonnell pointed out that work must continue. “While great strides have been made to rebuild our environmentally and economically important crab population, more work remains to be done with our steadfast Maryland partners. Two years does not make a trend.   The scientific evidence shows our management measures are working but we need to continue along this path in order to ensure the Bay’s crab population returns to robustness and remains at that level.”

The Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech noted, “Our watermen are due gratitude for their endurance during this stock rebuilding, and for their conservation efforts.   With more crabs in the water, watermen should see bigger harvests with less effort and fewer costs.   The Virginia Marine Resources Commission deserves credit for its steadfast resolve to enact and maintain the regulations necessary to rebuild the crab fishery with our partners in Maryland.”

The new survey also shows a baby boom – an almost doubling of the number of juvenile crabs, making it the largest new generation of crabs since 1997 and an encouraging development that wasn’t seen last year.


  1. Doug Gibson says:

    While this is a good bit of news for a beleagured fishery, there are still some things that could be done to further improve it. My family are commercial watermen, so they won’t go for these ideas, but they make sense in the larger scope of the fishery and the health of the bay:
    1.) Make “peelers” and soft-shell crabs illegal. These young and immature female crabs are taken out of the lifecycle and thus not able to bear eggs, reducing the stock.
    2.) Make “sponge crabs” illegal. Female crabs carry their eggs on the underside of their shell, and thus weigh more than other crabs. This artificially increases the weight of one’s catch, and brings in more money. However, because the eggs are not laid, the stock is reduced.

    Continuing to allow these crabs to be included in what is marketable greatly diminishes the species’ ability to bounce back.

    • Carl Westfiled says:

      These sound like very good ideas, but I would sorely miss that fried softshell crab on a sandwich… Now that’s good eats!

      • Doug Gibson says:

        I totally agree, Carl. That’s part of the reason why they’re still legal to catch. Sportfishermen love the peelers because the soft shell underneath the carapace is like a prime rib steak to game fish.

        Still, though, it doesn’t make a lot of sense when you think about it. They’re continuing to sell immature females before they can mate and produce eggs, and also selling egg-carrying females before they can lay their eggs. While not uncommon with certain fisheries (salmon, the caviar-prducing species, etc.), it is kind of silly.