The Environment In Focus
1:42 pm
Tue August 5, 2014

Cold Weather Deals Blow to Blue Crabs in Bay

Blue crab populations in the Chesapeake Bay have fallen for two years in a row, prompting Maryland officials to impose more restrictions on catching female crabs in an attempt to boost the population.

Natural resource police have also tightened minimum size requirements for catching crabs and recently launched a "Don't Get Pinched!" enforcement campaign.

“Crab populations are low, so Marylanders would like us to step up our enforcement efforts when it comes to crabbing violations,' said  Major Jerry Kirkwood of the Maryland Natural Resource Police

A scientific survey of the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population earlier this year found that the numbers had fallen to the lowest levels since 2008.  That was when the federal government declared the Bay an economic disaster area and allowed watermen to collect emergency relief funds.

“What we’re seeing this year is the number of adult female crabs – those female crabs that are creating the next generation – is very, very low," said Lynn Fegley, deputy director of fisheries at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.  "It actually fell slightly below what we consider our safe threshold, which is why we are calling the stock depleted.” 

Fegley said unusually cold temperatures this winter killed about 28 percent of the Bay’s crabs. This compounded a problem from the previous year, when unfavorable winds and ocean currents meant record low numbers of crab larvae survived.  

Bad weather’s blow to the blue crabs is a reversal in what had been a great comeback story.  Crab populations in the Bay more than doubled between 2008 and 2010 after Maryland and Virginia imposed some restrictions on catching female crabs and banned dredging for hibernating females in the winter.

But after a brief spike, crab populations have plunged back into the danger zone.

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