In response to the lowest abundance of crabs ever counted in the 33-year history of the Chesapeake Bay’s winter blue crab dredge survey, fishery managers at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Virginia Marine Resources Commission this week adopted new regulations designed to reduce the crab harvest.
The regulations aim to help the overall Chesapeake crab population rebound. The new restrictions are among the limited options fishery managers can take now to protect the Bay’s blue crab population as scientists examine other, long-term factors on the species such as pollution, loss of habitat, and predation from invasive species.
The Virginia Marine Resources Commission today extended lower harvest limits for the spring crab pot fishery and introduced lower limits for the fall crab pot fishery.
Maryland fishery managers made changes to both commercial and recreational harvest limits, with recreational harvest limits being cut in Maryland from two bushels to one bushel per day.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Maryland Senior Fisheries Scientist Allison Colden issued the following statement:
“In the face of a worrisome decline in the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population, it is encouraging that Virginia and Maryland are taking steps to protect the iconic crab fishery.
“These modest changes to crab harvest limits will help ensure harvest rates do not exceed levels that could threaten the crab population. And, for the first time ever, Maryland is placing bushel limits on male crabs in a change that underscores the need to boost overall reproduction.
“However, these fishery changes are a first step. We must also address the many factors threatening Chesapeake blue crabs, including poor water quality, loss of key habitat such as underwater grasses, and the proliferation of blue catfish and other invasive predators. Targeted research into these factors’ impact on the crab population is a critical next step to help protect communities that depend on blue crabs.”
“We also recommend conducting a new comprehensive stock assessment to better understand the Bay’s blue crab population and how management can work to ensure a healthy Chesapeake population in the future.”
Maryland’s new blue crab fishery regulations can be found here under “blue crab.”
The draft Virginia regulations passed by the VMRC today are posted here.