After 2 years on the rise, Chesapeake blue crab population declines in 2017

CHESAPEAKE BAY – After two years of growth, the overall population of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay declined in 2017, according to the annual Blue Crab Advisory Report released Monday.

The report says that while the 2017 estimated population of adult female blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay was higher than the target, the overall population was lower than it has been.

The estimated 2017 population of 254 million adult females was higher than the target of 215 million set by the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.

In 2016, 16 percent of all female crabs were harvested—below both the target (25.5 percent) and threshold (34 percent) levels. The report indicates that while numbers of adult female crabs in the Bay increased by 30 percent in 2017, the overall crab population decreased by almost 18 percent from 553 million in 2016 to 455 million in 2017. Notably, the number of juvenile crabs decreased by 54 percent from 2016 to 2017.

During the 2016 crabbing season, approximately 60 million pounds of blue crabs were harvested from the Bay and its tributaries by commercial fishermen—roughly 20 percent more than in 2015. Recreational crabbers harvested just over four million pounds.

The Blue Crab Advisory Report is an annual report developed by the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee, which is composed of state representatives and scientists from the Chesapeake Bay region, as well as federal fisheries scientists from the National Marine Fisheries Services’ Northeast and Southeast Fisheries Science Centers.

“The annual Blue Crab Advisory Report provides valuable data analysis and recommendations to the agencies that manage crabs here in the Bay to help them make scientifically informed decisions regarding our beloved—and valuable—blue crabs,” said Sean Corson, acting director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association Chesapeake Bay Office and Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team Chair. “The science it features enables us to enjoy crabs at crab feasts and on our dinner tables, today and in future years.”