2014 contributed to alarmingly low crab populations those years. The increase of crabs this year is directly linked to a milder winter. But who knows what 2017 will bring?
Crabs live a fast and hard life and the population is affected by a myriad of factors — wind, current, temperature, and weather — and one difficult year could send those numbers plummeting again. The bay is choked by
pollution and the grasses needed by juveniles for protection from predators are nonexistent in many places. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to pile on additional stress like increasing bushel limits when just three years ago the female population was alarmingly low.
Also troubling, the density of juvenile crabs under 2.4 inches decreased, from 30.72 per meter squared in 2015 to 27.79 in 2016. These tiny crabs are going to keep growing this season and, if all goes right, become the backbone of the commercial fishery,
but the life of a crab is unpredictable. Juvenile crabs molt several times before they reach adult size, and molting is risky business. Not all these tiny crabs are going to make it.
These new numbers should be approached with cautious optimism. We are riding a high this year, but we had similarly positive results from the survey in 2012 and the numbers dropped drastically the next two years. It’s like the brink of disaster has become the status quo.
Lots of us probably have memories of crabbing before the
near collapse of the population about 15 years ago. My childhood home was not too far from Chaptico Wharf, which was our family’s favorite destination for crabbing. It was usually my job to net the big ones off the pilings, while my dad worked the chicken necks, which required a bit more finesse than my 7-year-old enthusiasm could usually deliver.
Nowadays, in the summertime, I can’t help but inspect every single piling on a pier for crabs. It’s pure instinct. I haven’t seen a big crab dangling on one in a long time. And a “doubler” (a
mating pair) would be a rare sight indeed.
DNR officials have already hinted at a slight loosening of harvest limits for 2016, and it’s going to be hard to unring that bell, but we need as many spawning females as possible to keep replenishing the stock. It just doesn’t make sense to increase limits, and really it would be even better to restrict their harvest during peak reproductive months.
Let’s protect these beautiful swimmers.