Blue Crab population growing, robust season anticipated

Hollywood, MD - The Blue Crab population is up 35 percent from last year, and bodes well for a better harvest this year, according to state officials.

According to the Chesapeake Bay Program, it is estimated that one-third of the nation's blue crabs come from the Chesapeake Bay.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources released the 2016 Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey Tuesday, April 12 and shows another year of growth in the stock of the Chesapeake Bay crab population.

This is the fourth highest population level in 20 years, and builds on last year’s 38 percent boost in abundance better harvest this year, said Dave Blazer, Fisheries Service director.

“Due to a milder winter, favorable currents and tides, and wise bay-wide management measures, the Maryland crab population continues to rebound and strengthen,” said Blazer. “With an increase in abundance and steady recruitment, we fully anticipate a robust crab season this year.”

According to the study, improvements were seen in all age groups of male and female crabs. Spawning female stock nearly doubled from 101 to 194 million. With the second highest levels since 1995, the adult male stock is more than doubled from 44 to 91 million.

The number of spawning-age female crabs remains below the 215 million target but above the minimum threshold established in 2011. The juvenile crab abundance increased slightly from 269 million to 271 million, which is just above the 27-year average.

The highly variable nature of the blue crab population means that the department must maintain a degree of caution in considering management adjustments, said Glenn Davis, Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee chairman.

The 2015 bay-wide crab harvest increased by 42 percent over 2014 to 50 million pounds, and remained at sustainable levels for the eighth consecutive year.

“This combined with increased abundance means that a slight liberalization of harvest limits for female crabs may be warranted this summer,” said Blazer. “Our experts will now discuss the survey results with our internal and external stakeholders, and any modest adjustment to the current regulations, be it season length or bushel limit, will be considered only after the department receives input from all parties.”

The Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee plans to release a full analysis this summer.

The annual Winter Dredge Survey, conducted by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Virginia Institute of Marine Science since 1990, is the primary assessment of the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population. In the survey, biologists use dredge equipment to capture, measure, record and release blue crabs at 1,500 sites throughout the bay from December through March.

“Crabs tend to bury in the mud over the cold winter months, which makes it possible for scientists to develop accurate estimates of the number of crabs,” said Blazer.

For more information, the survey can be found here

Contact Jacqui Atkielski  at

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