Crab Population Strong, Regulations Left Unchanged

Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee reports the Chesapeake Bay blue crab population is stable and not currently at risk of being overfished, no additional restrictions needed this year.

The price of crabs may be high this year, but the health of the crab population is virtually unchanged. There are a number of factors which contribute to this population review.

According to the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee’s (CBSAC) report:

Total commercial blue crab harvest decreased throughout Chesapeake Bay in 2020. Commercial harvest for both males and females from the Bay and its tributaries was reported as 19.4 million pounds in Maryland, 19.4 million pounds in Virginia, and 2.8 million pounds in the Potomac River. Commercial harvest decreased for both males and females in Maryland and Virginia. There was a slight increase in female harvest in the Potomac River in 2020. The 2020 Bay-wide commercial harvest of 41.6 million pounds was below the 1990-2019 average of approximately 61 million pounds.

The decline in commercial blue crab harvest may be due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pandemic
restrictions limited patronage of restaurants, which significantly reduced the market for blue
crab. In an effort to make up for losses due to COVID-19, MDNR increased female bushel limits
for one week in November 2020, and VMRC extended the hard crab pot season through
December 19, 2020. PRFC maintained the status quo for their blue crab regulations throughout
the 2020 harvest season.

According to The Baltimore Fishbowl,

There were approximately 158 million female crabs in the Bay at the start of the 2021 crabbing season, researchers estimated, which is above a threshold of 72.5 million that scientists have determined is necessary for a sustainable fishery.

The percentage of female crabs harvested a year earlier was 19 percent, researchers say, which is below the target rate of 28 percent to maintain a healthy crab population.

Based on their findings, the CBSAC did not recommend any substantial changes in management but does encourage jurisdictions “to implement procedures that improve accountability of all commercial and recreational harvest moving forward, as this is an important component for accurately assessing stock health” (CBSAC).

Read the full CBSAC assessment.