Environmentalists Say Chesapeake’s Blue Crab Population Healthy Despite Significant Drop

July 7, 2020 by Gaspard Le Dem

The Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population is going strong despite shrinking significantly this year, according to a report issued last week by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

The environmental watchdog found no signs of overfishing in the bay in 2020, though the number of blue crabs decreased from 594 million last year to 405 million, a more than 30% drop.

Experts say the fluctuation is normal, and doesn’t pose a threat as long as the number of spawning-age female crabs — a key metric to determine the population’s growth potential — remains above a healthy limit. 

“While there are some expected fluctuations, our collective management efforts continue to enable the population to stay resilient and sustainable,” said Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, secretary of Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources. “Maryland blue crabs remain an iconic part of our heritage and our environment.”

At the start of crabbing season in April, there were roughly 141 million spawning-age females in the Chesapeake, well above the “abundance” threshold of 70 million crabs, the annual report said. 

Last year, the survey found that the prized crustaceans — a local favorite for seafood enthusiasts – -had reached their most abundant levels in seven years, with more than 190 million spawning-age females.

The blue crab population is known to be fickle as the animal relies on favorable maritime conditions to successfully reproduce each year between May and October.

After mating in the middle of the Chesapeake, female crabs release their offspring at the mouth of the bay. The tiny larvae, known as zoea (zow-ee-uh), are then carried out to the Atlantic Ocean where they molt several times before making their way back.

Their return to the Chesapeake is heavily dependent on optimal currents, temperatures, and winds, which don’t happen every year.

In 2013, Maryland reduced the commercial harvest of female blue crabs by 10% after biologists found that the Chesapeake’s crab population had reached a five-year low. The population has since rebounded.

Researchers say that climate change could have a positive impact on the Chesapeake’s blue crab population. A 2019 study found that rising water temperatures could help more crabs survive the winter, leading to a blue crab “baby boom” by the year 2100.

Blue crabs spend the winter burrowing in the bay’s muddy floor, but many younger crabs don’t survive the colder temperatures. The study predicted that the length of winter in the Chesapeake Bay would be cut in half by 2100, which could result in 20% more crabs surviving the season. 

The overwintering mortality rate in 2020 was the lowest ever observed, with only 0.36% of all crabs not making it through the winter.

Commercial fishermen harvested 61 million pounds of blue crabs across the bay’s tributaries and the Potomac in 2019, a slight increase from the previous year.

Recreational crab fishing is allowed in the bay, though it is illegal to harvest female crabs and crabbers must observe strict size regulations. 

To measure the population density of blue crabs, biologists from Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources and Virginia’s Institute of Natural Resources use fishing “dredges.” The specialized nets allow researchers to pluck the crabs from the bay’s muddy floor.

“Our ever-improving knowledge of the science guiding blue crab management — coupled with conservative female management measures and accountability — continue to allow us to maintain a sustainable fishery, both ecologically and economically,” said Marty Gary, executive director of the Potomac River Fisheries Commission.

Environment

A New Depression in the Atlantic Could Become Tropical Storm Josephine This Week
Weather
A New Depression in the Atlantic Could Become Tropical Storm Josephine This Week

MIAMI — A tropical depression traveling west through the Atlantic could strengthen into Tropical Storm Josephine this week, according to the National Hurricane Center. The depression is about 1,220 miles east-southeast of the Northern Leeward Islands and is traveling west with maximum sustained winds of 35... Read More

Hurricane Hanna Clean-Up Going Smoothly Despite the Challenges of COVID-19
Emergency Management
Hurricane Hanna Clean-Up Going Smoothly Despite the Challenges of COVID-19
July 31, 2020
by Jacob Pederson

Disaster relief efforts following Hurricane Hanna’s arrival on the coast of Texas last week are going well despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, according to the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Administration.  Hurricane Hanna hit Texas with winds of almost 50 miles per hour... Read More

Ocean Plastic Could Triple By 2040 Without ‘Rapid And Concerted’ Action
Environment
Ocean Plastic Could Triple By 2040 Without ‘Rapid And Concerted’ Action
July 27, 2020
by Gaspard Le Dem

WASHINGTON - The amount of plastic entering the world’s oceans could nearly triple within the next two decades, according to a report by the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan American think tank based in Washington, D.C., called “Breaking the Plastic Wave.”  By 2040, 29 million metric... Read More

At Philip Morris International Smoke-free Future Cornerstone of Sustainability
Innovation
At Philip Morris International Smoke-free Future Cornerstone of Sustainability
July 24, 2020
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - It has been an eventful summer for Philip Morris International, the company perhaps best known for its Marlboro and Chesterfield cigarette brands. First, Chief Executive Officer André Calantzopoulos declared in the company’s recently released integrated report that he is "convinced" it will be possible... Read More

Bipartisan Effort Assures Inclusion of PFAS Provisions in Defense Bill
Military
Bipartisan Effort Assures Inclusion of PFAS Provisions in Defense Bill
July 21, 2020
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - Bipartisanship ruled the day Monday when several amendments were added to the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2021 to better regulate a class of cancer-linked chemicals on military bases and surrounding communities. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS chemicals, are found... Read More

Federal Court Upholds California’s Right to Work with Quebec on Climate Change
Climate
Federal Court Upholds California’s Right to Work with Quebec on Climate Change
July 20, 2020
by Jacob Pederson

A federal court has ruled that California’s coordination with the Canadian province of Quebec to reduce greenhouse gas emission does not violate the U.S. Constitution, shooting down the last surviving element of a challenge by the Trump administration. In 2006, California’s Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top