Md. DNR working to bolster Chesapeake Bay blue crab population

MARYLAND – The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently released its 2022 Baywater Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey. The report revealed that the population of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay is at a 30-year low.

In 2022, the abundance of blue crab in the Bay was 227 million crabs. DNR says that is the lowest those numbers have been since 1990. The number of juvenile crabs was pegged at 101 million crabs. While DNR says that is a slight increase from the 86 million juvenile crabs counted in 2021, this year marks the third consecutive year of below average recruitment.

“We have certain management targets that we strive for. We’ve been hitting those targets as far as the amount of harvest, allowing for enough male and female crabs to be in the Bay to reproduce another generation,” said DNR’s Acting Director of Fishing and Boating Services, Michael Suisi. “What we’re having trouble with is that second part: reproducing another generation.”

Suisi says part of the problem is that many of the factors that could have contributed to the drop, are natural, and out of DNR’s control. “It has to do with environmental factors and conditions that are just not part of the things that we can control as managers. That’s why we’ve seen the decline that we’ve seen. It’s been three years now of not having that next generation come through,” he said.

Now, DNR is working across state lines to figure out what can be done to bring those numbers back up. Suisi says that collaboration is happening between Virginia officials, the Potomac Fisheries Commission, and federal agencies. A potential solution, according to Suisi, would be to revisit limits on how many crabs fishermen are allowed to net.

“[The crabs] are not going extinct. The people who rely on them for their livelihood and their business may see a decline in what they can harvest,” said Suisi. “Commercial crabbers and recreational fishermen are still going to catch crabs. It just might take a little bit more effort to catch what they normally would.”

The group will also meeting with commercial stakeholders in the industry to discuss what changes could be coming. “There’s a lot of moving parts. Everybody, right now, is probably just spinning their wheels with the information that was put out. But, July 1st would be when we would implement any changes,” said Suisi. “The population varies tremendously year to year, and so we have a long term vision. But, we also want to deal with the new data that we just received, and blend that all together and come up with a plan.”

Categories: Local News, Maryland, Virginia