Bay’s blue crab pop­u­la­tion grows

Spawn­ing-age fe­males dou­ble, sur­vey finds

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By TA­MARA WARD tward@somd­news.com

The Ch­e­sa­peake Bay blue crab pop­u­la­tion in­creased by 35 per­cent over the last year, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey con­ducted by the Mary­land Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources.

The 2016 Blue Crab Win­ter Dredge Sur­vey re­sults re­veals the bay’s crab pop­u­la­tion is 553 mil­lion. The an­nual sur­vey, con­ducted by DNR and the Vir­ginia In­sti­tute of Marine Science since 1990, is the pri­mary as­sess­ment of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay’s blue crab

pop­u­la­tion.

“All in­di­ca­tions [are] that they have dou­bled — they are a bit more abun­dant than last year,” said Tommy Zinn, pres­i­dent of the Calvert County Water­men’s As­so­ci­a­tion.

The non­profit as­so­ci­a­tion’s goal is to im­prove work­ing con­di­tions for those mak­ing a liv­ing from the water, as well as to im­prove water qual­ity and the en­vi­ron­ment. Zinn’s per­sonal goal is to help peo­ple be good stew­ards of water.

Zinn at­tributes the in­crease in num­bers to a milder win­ter with warmer water tem­per­a­tures and the restric­tions on crab­bers, in­clud­ing lim­it­ing the hours they can work. Crab pot­ters can only work nine hours a day and trot lin­ers can work 10 hours a day. They are re­quired to take at least one day off each week.

“We don’t tar­get the fe­males un­til fall. We get males all sum­mer,” said Zinn.

Ac­cord­ing to a news re­lease from DNR, this year’s im­prove­ment was seen in both male and fe­male crabs.

The num­ber of fe­male blue crabs of spawn­ing age, or those ca­pa­ble of re­leas­ing eggs, nearly dou­bled from 101 mil­lion to 194 mil­lion. Fe­male blue crabs are key to restor­ing the crab pop­u­la­tion in the bay. De­spite the in­crease, spawn­ing-age fe­male crabs re­main be­low the 215 mil­lion tar­get but above the min­i­mum thresh­old es­tab­lished in 2011.

The num­ber of adult male crabs more than dou­bled from 44 mil­lion to 91 mil­lion. This is the sec­ond-high­est level since 1995, ac­cord­ing to the state agency.

This growth in crab pop­u­la­tion is be­lieved to be the fourth-high­est level in two decades. Last year, there was a 38 per­cent in­crease.

“The highly vari­able na­ture of the blue crab pop­u­la­tion means that we must main­tain a de­gree of cau­tion in con­sid­er­ing man­age­ment ad­just­ments,” Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Stock As­sess­ment Com­mit­tee Chair­man Glenn Davis said in a press re­lease.

The Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Stock As­sess­ment Com­mit­tee in­cludes sci­en­tists and ex­perts who re­view the re­sults of the an­nual blue crab sur­vey and har­vest data in or­der to de­velop man­age­ment strate­gies for Ch­e­sa­peake Bay ju­ris­dic­tions, in­clud­ing Mary­land and Vir­ginia. The com­mit­tee plans to re­lease a full anal­y­sis this sum­mer.

Ac­cord­ing to DNR, crabs tend to bury in the mud dur­ing the cold win­ter months, mak­ing it pos­si­ble for sci­en­tists to de­velop ac­cu­rate es­ti­mates of the num­ber of crabs. Specif­i­cally, bi­ol­o­gists use dredge equip­ment to cap­ture, mea­sure, record and re­lease blue crabs at 1,500 sites through­out the bay from De­cem­ber through March.

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