The State of the Bay's Blue Crab Fishery

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A blue crab scuttles along a pier in Mayo, Maryland.

Damon Fodge

The Chesapeake’s iconic blue crabs have shown steady improvement since a low point in 2014. The 2020 Winter Dredge Survey conducted by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources showed decreasing numbers of all three major biological indicators of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay—total juveniles, total number of crabs, and the abundance of spawning age females. The total number of crabs was estimated at 405 million. Although the blue crab numbers in the Bay are down from 2019, overall they continue to remain well above the numbers seen in the late 1990s and mid-2000s that raised such concern. This year’s results indicate that the blue crab fisheries management changes adopted in 2008, which continue to guide decisions, have again resulted in a more abundant and stable trend for the Bay’s blue crab population.

Stability for the Bay's blue crab population has been limited by degraded habitat, in particular underwater grass bed coverage, which is fortunately showing signs of improvement. Blue crabs need grass beds for nursery areas and protection from predators. New management approaches also need to be explored. Despite the good news, the crab population has not reached its target level, a fact that emphasizes the need to stay the course with science-based limits. This iconic symbol of the Chesapeake is resilient, but our appetite for it—in all forms—demands caution and restraint lest we love it to death.

More About Blue Crabs

  • Blue Crabs

    The blue crab is one of the more resilient of Chesapeake species, but its fate depends on many factors.

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  • Photo of the Week: En Garde!

    A blue crab prepares for battle in Northumberland County Virginia.

  • Worth Repeating: Grasses = Crabs

    In this episode, CBF President Will Baker sits down with longtime CBF staffer Bart Jaeger to talk about the relationship between underwater grasses and the Bay’s blue crab population.

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