Governor Larry Hogan, chairman of the Chesapeake Executive Council, announced that the results of the 2019 Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey showed that the Bay-wide blue crab population increased 60 percent from last year, to an estimated total population of 594 million crabs.
“We are proud of our administration’s strong record of skilled environmental stewardship, which begins with safeguarding the Chesapeake Bay,” said Governor Hogan. “Today’s results are further proof and a shining example that our efforts to protect Maryland’s blue crab population, while ensuring the health of our state’s most important natural asset, have been successful.”
The rise in adult abundance of blue crabs was higher than anticipated given a poor influx of juveniles in 2017 and 2018. This is a sign that blue crab management has been successful at allowing more crabs to reach the spawning stock.
The adult female population climbed to 190 million, a 29 percent gain from 2018 and the adult male population increased to 80 million or 38 percent. Mild winter temperatures also helped increase both juvenile and adult blue crab overwintering survival rates.
“The blue crab population is both healthy and thriving, which is great news for the entire Bay,” said Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio. “Under Governor Hogan’s leadership, these results are a clear indication of the effectiveness of our management plan for blue crabs, an iconic species that is essential to Maryland’s economy and the Bay’s ecosystem.”
The juvenile crab population also increased from 167 million in 2018 to 324 million this year. Since blue crabs spend the first part of their lives in the Atlantic Ocean they rely heavily on favorable currents, temperatures and winds to bring them into the Chesapeake Bay where they grow and mature.
“The female abundance of blue crabs is close to our target and the juvenile population is above average,” said Natural Resources Fisheries Monitoring and Assessment Director Michael Luisi. “We expect a lot of variability in the blue crab population, and taking a conservative approach offers stability for the fisheries in the face of swings in abundance.”
In 2018 baywide harvest was 55 million pounds, which is similar to the 54 million pounds harvested in 2017.
The Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee will review the results of the survey and plan to release a full analysis this summer.
The Winter Dredge Survey has been conducted cooperatively by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science since 1990 and the results are reviewed annually in an effort to have consistent management efforts across the jurisdictions. Throughout the survey, biologists use dredge equipment to capture, measure, record, and release blue crabs at 1,500 sites throughout the Chesapeake Bay from December through March.