Great news for crab lovers in Maryland! Governor Martin O’Malley recently announced that the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population is at its second highest level since 1997 and well above the target for the third year in a row, setting the stage for a Bay-wide recovery.
“At 460 million crabs, our population is at its second highest level since 1997, and nearly double the record low of 249 million in 2007. And for watermen across the Bay, the unusually high abundance we saw last year translated into a harvest of more than 89 million pounds — the highest since 1993," said O'malley.
The survey also reports that 254 million adult crabs survived an unusually cold winter in the Chesapeake, above the current population target for the third year in a row. This marks the first time since the early 90s that the Bay has seen three consecutive years where the adult population was above the target (200 million crabs) and the combined commercial and recreational harvest was below the target of 46 percent.
“The Bay’s blue crab population can vary dramatically from year to year, and 2011 has presented some challenges,” said DNR Fisheries Service Director Tom O’Connell. “Crabs are vulnerable to extreme cold, and this past winter’s deep freeze is to blame for the fact that as much as 31 percent of Maryland’s adult crabs were lost to winter kill, as opposed to about 11 percent in 2010. Crab reproduction was also lower in 2011—again, not unexpected given its natural variability, which is heavily influenced by environmental conditions.”
Preliminary harvest numbers in the 88-94 million-pound range confirm that a robust industry can coexist with regulations designed to rebuild a self-sustaining, healthy blue crab population. In addition, recreational crabbing license sales increased by 8 percent in 2010, evidence that word about improved catch rates spread quickly among local communities and more individuals enjoyed this great Maryland tradition.
“The Bay’s blue crab population is healthy and now is showing signs of resiliency, thanks to our stock rebuilding efforts with our Maryland partners,” said Steven G. Bowman, Commissioner of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. “We cannot control the weather. It was a harsh winter and crab mortality was higher than normal. In fact, it was the worst we’ve seen since 1996. Thankfully, we acted when we did in 2008 to begin rebuilding the crab population, or the crab census results we see today would be grim indeed.”
So get ready for a great season of steamed crabs! And remember to always do your part to save the bay.