Survey shows drop in female blue crabs in the Bay
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The number of spawning-age female blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay has dropped significantly, prompting marine officials in the Virginia and Maryland area to focus on protecting and building up the population.
According to an annual winter dredge survey by marine officials released Thursday, the number of spawning-age female crabs dropped below the minimum safe level of 70 million and are in a depleted state. While the number of juvenile crabs increased and last year's harvest remained at a safe level for the sixth consecutive year, officials say the total number of crabs remains comparatively low at about 297 million.
"This is disappointing news," Virginia Marine Resources Commissioner John Bull said in a news release. "We are now faced with two challenges: Conserving adult females ... and conserving this new generation of crabs in order to increase their chances of reproducing in even larger numbers next year."
The annual survey serves as the primary assessment of the Chesapeake Bay's blue crab population. It uses dredges to sample blue crabs at 1,500 sites throughout the Bay from December through March.
Crabs live in a constantly changing ecosystem and abundance levels are influenced by coastal currents, weather patterns, predators, water temperatures and a host of other factors, Bull said.
The long cold winter is suspected to have contributed to the low numbers. Low water temperatures led to the death of about 28 percent of all adult crabs in Maryland, one of the worst cold-kill events since the start of the survey in 1990, officials said.
Although the juvenile crab population increased 78 percent from a record low seen in 2013, levels remain below those seen in before 2008, when officials began a coordinated effort to rebuild crab stock in the Bay.
Officials said management efforts going forward will be aimed at producing a more productive and vibrant recreational and commercial blue crab fishery in 2015.